Dr. Alan V. Tepp, Ph.D., P.C.
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Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA): An Inroduction

Pursuant to the 1997 amendments to IDEA, there are explicit requirements of an IEP Team in regards to the determination of addressing behavioral problems of students with disabilities.

It is imperative that educational professionals understand that there is no single cause for problem behaviors. Specifically, disruptive behavior can be the result of many different causes including avoiding embarrassment, seeking power, gaining attention, communicating a feeling, along with other motivators for a disruptive behavior.

When a student presents with a behavioral problem, the student’s behavior must be understood as the “topography”, or what the behavior looks like or sounds like. Equally important is the fact that for each and every behavior, there may be different “causes” or functions of that behavior. By focusing only on the “topography”, educators are not afforded the necessary information to develop effective interventions. Rather, by identifying underling causes of student behaviors, we can develop proactive instructional strategies, including positive behavioral interventions and supports which can serve to reduce behaviors that interfere with academic success.

In contrast to such proactive approaches, reactive procedures such as suspension or punishment, simply address the symptoms of the problem and tend not to address the underlying function of a behavior. Reactive procedures often do not decrease the occurrence of a maladaptive behavior as underlying causes are not being addressed.

It is also important for educators to remain aware of the fact that functions of a behavior are not usually considered inappropriate. Rather, it is the behavior itself that violates school rules. For example, seeking attention by getting good grades is a pro-social behavior linked to the same function, i.e., attention, that disruptive behavior in the classroom might be linked. Herein, the function of the adaptive behavior and the maladaptive behavior, is the same.

December 2, 2002

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