Do These Things Now

  1. Finish reading this and review Sections 1A-D of the Manual
  2. Gather basic referral information that identifies the person whose behavior is of concern, and the Stakeholders involved
  3. Conduct initial, brief interviews to get an idea of the behaviors that are of most concern to the Stakeholders
  4. Prioritize behaviors according to impact on the person and their environment.
  5. Generate questions to be answered by the Functional Assessment (see below)
  6. Start planning your Direct and Developmental observations
  7. Choose recording forms that you will use when doing formal observations of the behavior or behacvioral inventories
  8. Start accumulating and reviewing records and arranging interviews with Stakeholders and anyone else that can provide meaningful insight into the behavior
  9. Form a working hypothesis of why the behavior occurs and what variables appear to influence the presence or absence of the behavior

How to Use this Manual

This is an on-line manual that provides specifications for completing a Functional Assessment report of some kinds.  Templates for different users are provided on this site with links provided here.

The Manual is divided into sections, that correspond with sections of within those reports.  Since this Manual is for Functional Assessment purposes, the focus is on gathering the information/data required to answer a set of referral issues.

Most of our specifications are required by the various agencies in order for the report to be accepted and recommendations followed.  This method meets and exceed standards provided by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, which tends to set the standards for Insurance Company, State Regional Centers, School Districts, etc.  We consider information generally overlook or under-utilized by conventional standards.

We use a Developmental Psychopathology Approach to Functional Assessment

We do Functional Assessment of Behavior and Development according to principles of Developmental Psychopathology, as we explain in our statement of Basic Tenets of Our Philosophy of the Functional Assessment of Behavior.  Before we develop hypotheses and test them, we gather information not only by observing the environmental antecedents and consequences of behavior, but also by examination and analysis methods that permit us to…

  • Consider the behavior in light of typical development (the ways in which children typically learn and develop), and what factors are causing the differences we see.   The behaviors we see often resemble responses of emotionally younger individuals.  Qualitative information, evidenced by overt patterns of making choices yield information regarding similarities with typical (most often younger) stages of development.
  • We can use this information in light of the person’s observed capacity for and profile of thinking, relating and communicating in the development of hypotheses about the behavior.
  • Qualitative information regarding the person’s current capacities for thinking, relating and communicating will be important for designing intervention and treatment.
  • Consider mental, bioneurological processes (e.g., Perceptual/Motor Planning; Regulation of Sensory and Emotional Arousal; Executive and Memory function, etc.)
  • Consider subjective, intersubjective and attachment-related factors in the understanding and treatment of the behavior.

Examination of developmental and intersubjective variables are generally not included for consideration in most Functional Assessments.  Yet these are sources of information we consider vital to developing a holistic and person-centered (rather than behavior-centered) understanding of the behavior.

So even if you consider yourself to be an experienced and well-trained behaviorist, it is likely that the level of Functional Analysis of Behavior and Treatment that we require will be new to you.  Therefore, in order to meet our specifications, you will need to refer to this manual for each section of the report.

The Sections of the Manual

The sections of the manual correspond to specific sections required for the report.

  • The Manual provides specifications of what types of data are to be included in each section and how the data should be presented in that section.
    • The Manual provides theoretical and background information to guide observation and the collection of the type of data that goes in that section.
  • The Manual also provides a stepwise procedure for collecting the information that you need to complete the Functional Assessment Report.

Sections are listed in a manner that leads the Analyst towards:

Clarity and Definition of the Behaviors of Concern

We start by framing the analysis in terms of asking specific questions that the process of Functional Assessment is supposed to address.  After some basic initial referral information is listed in the report (the ‘Heading Boxes’ that contain basic identifying information), the assessment process works with the stakeholders involved to develop a series of questions that the assessment process and the report will attempt to address.

Progression from General to Specific

We start out by asking some basic questions generated by the team of Stakeholders under the guidance of the Analyst.  The first questions asked in any assessment or analysis have to be…

What do we want to know?
..Why do we want or need to know it? and…
What will we use the information for once we get it?

Basic Referral Information Section
This section describes, in a general way, why and what it is about the behavior that warrants the cost, in terms of time, effort and money, of the Functional Assessment.  It is a short statement that identifies the stakeholders and the degree of impact the behaviors of concern have on them and the environments in which the behaviors occur.
Referral Concerns Section
Referral Concerns are questions generated by the Analyst in collaboration with Stakeholders at the very beginning of the process.  These questions guide further gathering of information and foci of analysis.  Later on, these questions organize the synthesis of data from the various types and from various sources available.
Operational Definition of the Behavior
Agreeing on a Definition of the Behavior/Valid and Reliable Observation and Measurement
Specific Behaviors then must be described in terms that provide parameters for measuring them.
  • Precise, operating or operational definitions of the behavior control for the validity and reliability of observations and data collection.
  • The operational definition of the behavior, which describes the behavior or behavioral response class in it’s most definable and reliably measured form (all parameters and topographical information is stated as precisely as possible), appears only after background and developmental information have been described.  This is by design.
  • Developmental and historic information should influence and refine your focus on the most relevant aspects of the behavior.  Your final definition of the behavior should reflect the most meaningful ways to observe and measure the behavior.
Data Collection
Once operationally defined, initial baseline data must be collected.  Baseline collection procedures must be chosen in a way that results in the most valid representation of  a person’s current, ‘typical responding,’ as well as descriptions of what behavior looks like in it’s mild v. extreme forms.
Systematic Collection and Comparison of Data
Planning the ways in which you will observe the behavior and the means you will use to measure it should start immediately in the process.   It can take time to gather all relevant sources of information, especially from records and interviews, so initial observations can be conducted with sparse information.  The Analyst records initial impressions and notes behaviors that may need further examination.
There is an advantage to initially “going in blind,” which is the opportunity to observe a person without predisposing bias.
But most referrals include at least some terse information about the behaviors of concern.   This can be enough to ask stakeholders what they currently know about where or under what conditions the behaviors are most and least likely to occur.
Parameters of Data for Observation Purposes

Parameters of data refer to the aspects of the behavior that you will measure.   The Assessment Manual goes into the methods and forms you can use in much more detail.  For the purposes here, the basic parameters of behavior to consider for measurement are…

  • Frequency/Rate: How often does the behavior occur?  How regularly does the behavior occur?
  • Duration: How long does the behavior last? 
    • Latency: How long does it take for a behavior to begin?
  • Impact: How seriously does the behavior impact the person and his or her opportunities, relationships and surroundings?
  • Contextual Factors: Where and/or when does the behavior occur?  Where and/or when does the behavior not occur?  What contextual factors can you identify that have direct influence on the behavior?

Following the observation period, the Analyst provides initial baseline data according to parameters specified in the operational definition of the behavior.  Subsequent Reports of Progress will use the same parameters to measure changes in the behavior.

Development of Initial Hypotheses of the Functional relations between antecedents, behaviors and consequences
The Functional Assessment process described here and explained further in the Assessment Manual represents a significant advance over basic Functional Assessment of Behavior as typically practiced.  It allows a holistic view of the person and the overt as well as covert factors that influence the behavior.  But the process still adheres to the format and foundations of Functional Assessment of Behavior given by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
The guiding principles behind the traditional model and the current one are the same.  The goal is to develop hypotheses as to why the behavior occurs using objective information.   There is a primary focus on observation to collect data, although both behavioral and developmental observation methods are required by our process.
  • Traditional functional analysis maintains that behaviors are controlled (or shaped/refined/changed) by the consequences they produce
    • We agree.  This process looks more deeply however at how the person experiences and understands the consequences of his or her behavior. We want to know what the consequences actually meant to the person.
  • Traditional functional analysis maintains that consequences become antecedents to future episodes
    • We agree.  This process looks more deeply at executive and memory function in terms of how well matched the demands of the environment are with the individual’s current repertoire and skill sets for controlling impulses, planning behavior and engaging in ongoing and reciprocal social exchanges for the purposes of behavioral co-regulation.  Motor planning is the process of taking in information (input) and making meaning of it, while simultaneously keeping track of changing events and meanings around us and organizing intentions and overt behaviors in a fluid-enough manner (output).
  • Individual differences in developmental capacities affect a person’s ability to appreciate the consequences of their behavior.  We want to know the relative meaning of the consequences of behavior for the person and the other Stakeholders.
    • These differences are also important to consider when planning interventions because they yield important details about learning style and zones of proximal development.  We want to know how the individual tends to form connections and associations from what happens.
  • Traditional functional analysis considers the history of reinforcement as important information.
    • Again, we agree.  In almost every referral, there is some sort of history of responding or reacting to the behaviors of concern.  We want to know what people tried to do; what worked and what didn’t, and what insights they gained from dealing with the behavior so far.
    • But relationships between variables of behavior change over time and experience.  In the spirit of Developmental Psychopathology, we want to know what seem to be the mechanisms of deviation from the patterns of responding associated with typical development.  We want to know what the obstacles to growth are.  We want to know why the other interventions worked or didn’t work, and compare that information, through this process, to what we’re learning about the person’s true experience of the world.
  • Traditional functional analysis identifies four main categories of reinforcing consequences (i.e. consequences that maintain or strengthen the behavior in some way, making it more likely to happen): We call these the “Iwata Functions” after Brian Iwata, one of the pioneers of modern functional assessment of behavior.  Dr. Iwata has most to do with the current method of grouping behaviors according to the following “Functional Categories:”
    • Social: The behavior serves the purposes of affecting other people or animals
    • Automatic: The behavior is directed at the self and is for the purposes of regulating body and mental states independent of other people
    • Positive: The behavior produces consequences that are added to the environment (such as attention; access to goods, activities or other sources of further reinforcement)
    • Negative: The behavior produces consequences that remove unwanted aspects or events from the environment (such as demands, limits, uncomfortable feelings, etc.)
These four main categories are combined to form positive and negative social and automatic functions:
  • Social/Positive: the behavior tends to add people or people’s actions or social events in the environment
  • Social/Negative: the behavior tends to remove people or modify or avoid social events such as demands or limits
  • Automatic/Positive: the behavior tends to produce desired feelings in the body
  • Automatic/Negative: the behavior tends to remove or reduce unpleasant feelings in the body

Whereas we believe these categories are insufficiently differentiated, they are a required part of the Functional Assessment.   Typical methods of Functional Assessment of Behavior would stop there – once the Iwata functions have been identified.  Once they are identified, it is not uncommon for practitioners of Functional Assessment to apply formulaic, “plug in” procedures available (and suggested by Iwata) for each of the categories.   Our Assessment Manual provides much more detail, definition and differentiation of the Iwata categories, so the information can be used to identify replacement skills in a more efficient manner.

Refinement and Conclusive Analysis of the Discrepancies between general and specific demands of the environment and the developmental and behavioral skills the person of concern possesses.

A fundamental concept and defining difference in this method of Functional Assessment of Behavior is that behavioral excesses and developmental deficits result from a discrepancy between the demands and available resources of the environment and the developmental strengths and needs of the individual whose behavior is of concern.   We take every opportunity to remind the Analyst that people do not respond to reality.  They respond to their perceptions of reality.  And the way they respond now has most to do with their current understanding and means of evaluating information available to them; their current capacities to form perspectives (abilities to discover patterns  or make inferences), and their current capacities to manage their emotional, motor, and thinking process in the formation of responses to the environment.
This is why so much effort is spent considering mental/neurological processing factors and developmental patterns that are readily observed and that predisposition behavior.
Developmental Assessment is required to some degree in all reports.  It is required in any developmental domain of assessment that is reasonably connected to or influential and functionally related to the behavior.  Sections of the report are dedicated to various developmental domains.  Not all are relevant to every behavior.  The Manual provides guidelines regarding how specific developmental phenomena can affect behavior.  The Assessor, by virtues of both developmental and behavioral observation.
Reports will be sent back for insufficient developmental background for behaviors.  While not every developmental domain is functional related to the behaviors under assessment, the Assessor must understand the developmental capacities of the IP and how that influences his or her experience of antecedents and consequences.
Importantly, in a related way, we analyze the current supports available and/or needed in the environment.  We look at whether current measures are compensatory or remedial.  If environmental responses are compensatory, we want to understand further the deficits these measures or strategies compensate for and why they are still necessary.
We want to know foremost, what skills are needed to address the gap between what the environment demands in the way of development, and what developed skills and capacities the person can bring to bear to do better.
Developing Functionally Equivalent Replacement Behaviors (FERBs)
This is the final step of the Functional Assessment of Behavior before developing treatment plans and other recommendations.   Once you have identified the discrepancy – or the set of missing or underdeveloped skills that predispose behavioral excesses, you must develop goals and objectives for teaching behavioral skills to replace the current inappropriate forms.
  • Replacement Behaviors or skills should satisfy the same purposes or produce similarly satisfying effects for the person that the original (inappropriate) behavior did.  For instance, if an inappropriate behavior produced [social/positive] effects of increased attention from others, than whatever replacement behaviors taught should be related to regulating attention from others (e.g., learning better ways to request or garner attention; learning how to appraise if or how long to wait for attention and defer needs for attention if necessary, etc.)
  • Replacement behaviors should either provide or acquire equal powers of reinforcement of the behavior.  In other words, the new behavior should provide similarly satisfying consequences in order for them to eventually replace inappropriate behaviors.  Inappropriate behaviors may have or continue to be very effective at obtaining reinforcement.
Writing Goals and Objectives for the Teaching of Replacement Behaviors
Just as with any new skill, FERBs need to be stated in terms of goals, objectives and benchmarks for measuring progress.  Treatment plans must support the achievement of goal/objective criteria, and parameters for measuring progress identified.  The Manual gives specific Guidelines for Writing Goals and Objectives that apply to FERBs.

The Table of Contents contains links to individual sections of the report and corresponding sections of the manual.

Report Templates using Microsoft Word provide the outline and structure of the report.  You must obtain these from the office if they have not already been emailed to you.

We have annotated  behavior Templates here on the website.  These are for your information.  The links are directly below this section.  You are provided with a blank Functional Assessment of Behavior Report that you will submit.