A significant difference between this method of Functional Assessment of Behavior and traditional forms is the attention paid to developmental factors related to the behavior. Given a set of circumstances that involves people of various ages, roles, perspectives, and each person’s abilities to make meaning of the circumstances, each of them are likely to take something different away from the same set of supposedly objective events.

Developmental information plays a key role in the way we view and understand behavior. But as we pointed out in previous sections, even high quality quantitative data and demonstrations of functional relations [correlations] between antecedent and subsequent events surrounding the behavior can be misleading when viewed out of the proper context.

For instance, a certain product or consequence of behavior can be clearly shown to “reinforce” (strengthen or maintain) a behavior, which could be evidence enough of the function of the behavior to go ahead and begin to identify replacement skills and behaviors and draw up a treatment plan.

Jack (12-3; 6.4) makes statements in school settings that cause conflicts with peers. When peers ask him to stop, he repeats the statements, often louder. If adults do not intervene, peers have escalated their behaviors in response to Jack’s statements. Peers ask him to leave the group or game and he often refuses – continuing to engage in the behavior. He has been threatened with physical attack if he continued on or insisted on staying in the area.

After 3 weeks of taking data from direct observation of the behavior in the lunchroom, on the playground, and in the classroom, certain patterns emerged, along with implications for the functions of the behaviors for Jack:

Baseline Data on Jack’s behavior of making “Inappropriate Statements”

  • (Topographical) The number and variety of statements Jack makes is limited to less than ten, but the statements vary somewhat relative to what individual peers respond to. The statements usually consist of Jack uttering a statement or a name that the individual responds to negatively (e.g. a racial or gender epithet, calling them liars and hypocrites, etc.). Most of the time, the statement is something Jack has said before to that peer or to some other peer previously.
  • (Rate/Intensity of Behavior) This behavior ranged between 2 and 7 times per hour, depending on the setting
  • (Rate/Intensity of Consequences) The data shows that peers respond with mildly hostile responses (e.g., “Stop!” “Shut up Jack”) about 67% of occurrences (number of peer responses ÷ number of Jack’s statements), and with overtly hostile verbal aggression (e.g., “Get out of here!;” threats to move him physically) 14% of the time. Peers ignore almost all of his utterances now, but they report the problem has gotten worse. They’ve report to the Teacher and other adults that they initially tried to be friendly with Jack, but they don’t want him around now because of these statements.He has been pushed before and threatened that if he came closer more harm would come to him. Adults intervened by then on 2 occasions and removed Jack to the margins of the area. Jack continued to make the statements from a distance or until the peer went away. On all other occasions, Jack and the peers remained in the same area.
  • (Setting) Higher rates were associated with unstructured social settings, especially if peers congregated into conversation groups. Rates varied more according to the individuals the statements were directed at, than by activity, location or time.Historical data from home shows that Jack behaves similarly with his older siblings and with age-mates and peers in the neighborhood.

From this data, assuming it was taken reliably and the patterns are consistent seem to show that when Jack engages in behavior he seems to get a response from peers. The response is often hostile, but it nevertheless becomes added to the environment whenever a peer responds. The high rate of hostile responses consequent to the behavior implies a functional correlation. Background obtained from Jack’s mother, adults in school, and last year’s Teacher shows that Jack says things unintentionally at first, but when his utterances receive negative responses, he tends to do them more.

  • From this pattern, and inference can be made that Jack expects the responses he gets (further evidence perhaps because he discriminates between individuals when making different utterances). This implies a “Social” (reinforcement appears to be coming from a person or animal) and “Positive” (in the ABA sense that it results in something being add rather than removed from the environment or behavioral transaction), hence the function of the behavior can be a Social/Positive Function of Behavior (we get into this more in the Functional Assessment Sections below).

For our purposes here, let’s say that this is the only operating or relevant function of the “Inappropriate Statements” behavior. There are usually more, sometimes of conflicting types.

Operating on the Social/Positive Reinforcement-seeking hypothesis, it is logical to look for replacement behaviors that will produce Social/Positive reinforcement, but that will result in more, rather than less opportunities to access different sources and types of reinforcement.

The current pattern; the reason it is referred to as “inappropriate,” is because despite the reliability of the reinforcement it produces, the kind of reinforcement it produces leads to less opportunities to receive further reinforcement rather than more. Jack tends to get removed, which in turn cuts off his chances for receiving further social reinforcement. Indeed, Jack spends disproportionate time alone, does not have any friends, and does not get invited to join conversations or social activities in school anymore.

These replacement behaviors or sets of skills can range from learning other things to say, to more comprehensive sets of skills learned as part of a curriculum developed to improve social thinking and applied social skills).

It is at this point where we have to say, “hold the phone!” The quantitative data is so far driving the decision-making, and there are important developmental details that could and should influence decision making.

But here are some questions currently going unanswered – that we think need to be answered to come up with the most effective hypotheses, replacement behaviors and interventions…

if the responses were hostile, why did Jack seem to continue to repeat the statements?
….why doesn’t he think of saying other things?
…why does Jack follow the kids when they try to leave him, repeating the same statements?
…if he wanted them to leave, why does he follow them and continue?
…if he doesn’t want them to leave, how come he keeps saying things that make them want to leave?
…is he hoping to make the peer mad or…
…does he not know what else to say?
…does he know he’s making a mistake?
…if he knows he’s making a mistake, why does he repeat it?
…if he doesn’t know it is a mistake – why does he?
…what replacement skills could we teach him so that he would know he’s making a mistake?
…what replacement skills can he learn to help him repair breakdowns in social interaction?

Knowing how a person’s way of making meaning in the world – which has a lot to do with mental processing and characteristic profiles of meaning making (i.e. from the ability to simply notice associations to the ability to make deeper, more abstract and novel inferences) that we commonly refer to as “developmental” level or developmental style of thinking.

The specifications of this Functional Assessment require the incorporation or data from development in the every stage of the process. Developmental information is considered when developing hypotheses regarding the functions of the behavior; identifying skills and behaviors the IP can learn to replace or improve upon behavior, to; choosing the elements and strategies to be used in treatment.

Very often, an individual’s behavior patterns resemble those of younger children. These patterns of behaviors – styles of behavior if you will, have been organized by various researchers into qualitative phases of development where they are commonly observed in clusters and that follow a common set of evolutionary changes under normal conditions.

In typical development, a person’s ability to make meaning from the world changes as they acquire new means of exploring it and organizing the information into concepts and theories. From more than century of empirical evidence collected about how children think and perceive the world at various phases of development. For instance, when you ask the question, “Where does the sun go at night?” to people of various ages…

…a 2 year old might simply say, “It goes down” (mere association)
…a 3 year old might believe that “…it goes behind the houses and stays there until it comes back up” (perceptions guide thinking)
…a 4 year old might say that “…it goes down behind the houses to go to sleep” (perceptions still guide thinking, but there is attempt at logic)
…a 6 year old might say that “it goes around the earth” (concept based on his own experience of seeing sun go down in one place and come up in another)
….a 10 year old might say…”It doesn’t go anywhere. The earth turns.”
…a 14 year old might tell you, “It doesn’t go anywhere. The earth turns. That’s why it appears to move. In actuality, it is we on earth that are moving.”

Same objective events, but very different perceptions. Now if we considered any of the responses coming from children below 6 years old to be inappropriate, we might seek to teach them the replacement behavior – to utter the correct answer. But we know that the younger ones would not understand what we’ve taught them to say, and since no real change in thinking occurred, there is little reason to believe that there will be plenty more “inappropriate” answers to come.

So let’s go back to our 12 year old 6th grader, Jack. When we look at data obtained from a combination of developmental observation (observing the developmental, phase characteristic behaviors he evidences in his typical thinking and behavior in the world), testing and results of developmental evaluations, we find that Jack’s perception of social events is at the very basic “cause and effect” level. While the forms of his behavior may include words you don’t normally hear from toddlers – the patterns of his behavior imply that he thinks socially and emotionally like a much younger child. Like a younger child, Jack misses a lot of the subtle and unspoken reference points that are constantly part of his peers’ interaction. This makes it difficult for Jack to understand what peers mean only on the most superficial and concrete level – which usually results in an obvious mismatch in perceptions to what is going on. Sure, the group may seem playful to Jack, but he doesn’t know what they are laughing at. He really doesn’t understand what they are talking about, much less what they actually mean by what they say, so it is difficult for him to find appropriate things to contribute.

This has been going on for a long time. If you look at Jack’s developmental curve over his lifetime so far, you can see that Jack’s is relatively flatter than his peers, which implies that without intervention, this gap will grow wider with time, as the pace of his development moves more slowly, and his peers’ developmental curves are steeper. As Jack and his peers grew further apart developmentally, they also began treating him differently. Jokes were at his expense. He got used to being the subject of unkind, disrespectful and dejecting behavior on the part of peers. Because of his developmental age, Jack may not always be able to determine the meaning of other’s behavior. He may perceive hostile, dejecting statements as mere responses.

He may think associatively, as children do at this age, and merely consider the reliability of peer responses reinforcing. Just as young children like to knock over towers, Jack makes statements and watches as his peers reliably get angry. They don’t appreciate the nuances – they just enjoy the cause and effect. Jack follow his peers until they escalate their behaviors into overt threats. Does the threatening behavior mean something else to Jack, and is that why he doesn’t stop until he gets threatened or pushed? This all would be very helpful to know, because we want to know what replacement behaviors would be realistic to teach him and what teaching strategies are more or less likely to work.

Objections to Using Developmental Data in Functional Analysis

When we looked at the objections to using developmental information in the process of Functional Assessment from traditionalists, we find that they are typically based on incorrect notions of what developmental science is and has to offer. Since we use a Developmental Psychopathology model, we use what is known and verified about human development as one source of information. But no Developmentalist maintains that behaviors are caused simply by the genetic unfolding of development – absent of the shaping influences. This objection is based on the assumption that developmentalists believe children behave in ways caused by their development. Developmentalists have observed characteristics of clusters of behaviors associated with specific phases in life and that occur in typical order. They can see the effects the environment has on development and know that it is the interaction between the environment and the child’s internal meanings and perceptual capacities that shape behavioral development.

Behaviorists are also less likely – because of their dedication to observable events – to believe that there is any innate sequence of development. They believe that children build on what they know, and what they know is experienced through their sensory systems in interaction with the environment. This assumes that everyone’s senses respond in the same ways to environmental events. We maintain that different people experiencing the same set of antecedents,, behavioral events and consequences will take away a different meaning, and that the future of that behavior in the individual’s repertoire has a lot to do with that meaning.

While cultural (read: environmental) factors influence developmental pathways considerably, there is still much in the way of universal sequences of development noted over millenia, and verified through multiple empirical observations of children developing. Children tend to acquire “tools” of development in much the same ways (i.e. through Guided Participation teaching), and that they’re capacities to learn change over their lifespan in characteristic ways.

For us, developmental observation and the noting of developmental factors helps us:

  • Inform our hypotheses about what the internal and subjective experiences are within the individuals that can shape their behavior and ways of responding
  • Help us examine, based on the Developmental Psychology Model: the nature of the developmental demands required of the environment at the time(s) behavior occurs and when it doesn’t occur, in order to compare it to:
  • The IP’s current repertoire of developmental tools and behaviorally demonstrated skills
  • The gaps we see between the demands of the environment and what the IP brings to bear in the situation
  • Develop goals and objectives for replacement behaviors that come from typical developmental skills needed to fill the gap
  • Develop teaching strategies that known to be effective for individuals that function according to the IP’s profile of development: we will be less likely to underestimate or overestimate the skills than we would be without this data.

These bear repeating…

People do not respond to reality; they respond to their perceptions of reality. They respond to their beliefs about the world, themselves and others. Perceptions of reality are based on what we can understand and know, or, our “frame of orientation,” as the Philosopher Eric Fromm put it. This is different for everyone, and our “frames of orientation” are shaped in large part on developmental capacities and cultural conditioning.

Our experience is processed in our brain from the bottom layers that handle basic sensory perception, which is heavily filtered through the top layers – which aggregate and remember our experiences. This is known as “top down” processing. Our prior experience determines in large part what we take away from events. We have known this from at least as far back as the experiments of Gestalt Psychologists and optical illusions.

“Cognitive structures, once laid down, are very resistant to incorporating discrepant external data and thus tend to perpetuate themselves. New events tend to be interpreted according to the cognitive rules we already posses, known as ‘self-perpetuating algorithms,’ so that we see what we expect to see and find what we expect to find. Early events are powerful determinants of later tacit assumptions and guide later implicit and explicit learning. These assumptions tend to act like cognitive filters, to ensure that subsequent events are interpreted in ways consistent with our existing cognitive schemas. We all tend to find that for which we are looking… Dowd, T.; “Adlerian, Cognitive-Behavioral, and Constructivist Psychotherapies: Commonalities, Differences, and Integration;” Chap. 6, in “Adlerian, Cognitive-Behavioral, and Constructivist Therapies: An Integrative Dialogue;” Watts, R.E. Ed.; 2003; Springer Publishing

Development therefore, can be viewed as the process in which these perceptions change, as new experiences (consequences) continue to shape our perceptual filters. Piaget described this process as equilibration – the driving force in development.

We simply cannot afford to look only at observable antecedents and the consequences that behavior produces. It is so much more useful to also have an idea of what the IP experiences; how he or she interprets the antecedents and consequences. This has so much to do with what is really reinforcing to the IP and how we can harness authentic and natural motivation rather than reverting to what “we think” is reinforcing and using artificial “positive reinforcement.” Without this knowledge, we can spend a lot of our time throwing pies at the wall when we are trying to figure out what is going to work in intervention.

The Developmental Observation sections

The primary purpose of these sections are as follows:

  1. to identify discrepancies between the demands of the environment and the skills the IP has or knows how to use in response
  2. that hypotheses regarding functions of behavior take into account the meanings, intentions, and expectations the IP and Stakeholders have of their behavior (the actual “take away” people have from an event in the environment); to make sure that all possible precursors to and relevant influences behavior are considered;
  3. to enable “antecedent intervention” that involves clarifying developmental precursors and subsequently making Stakeholder attributions and expectations more in line with reality
  4. to make sure that there is a good match between the developmental characteristics of the IP and the choosing of replacement behaviors/skills and intervention methodology

Empathy and attunement are essential components of our interventions and attuning and empathizing openly with the IP is an integral part of all aspects of the therapies we use. How can we do this without some theory of the other person’s perceptual states? Further, the not so simple act of attuning and empathizing openly with the IP often does a great deal to wipe away their aggressive feelings and to foster cooperation in the moment and in the long term. Otherwise, we go back to fostering “compliance” and using control methods from a manipulative stance.

The Concept of Remarkability

There are numerous aspects of development one can assess, but this is not a haphazard approach. Ideally, there is adequate enough data from developmental observation to inform hypotheses of behavior, to develop goals for change and to choose intervention methods most likely to work.

But to include every aspect of development in Functional Assessment of Behavior is not parsimonious. Not every section below is needed or relevant to the particular referral.

Information is “remarkable” if it is relevant to the assessment tasks: forming hypotheses of behavior, developing goals for change and choosing intervention methods

Developmental Analysis

Developmental Analysis means looking at the current state of the working systems of the mind and body that are part of the make-up of behavior. For each and any action, thought, or response to stimuli that happens, there is a corresponding set of bodily responses. The “mind” is a consituent system among all of the other systems – playing a key role indeed, but still a system among other systems.

One primary point of each of the Developmental Analysis sections below is to look at a particular area of development, and to try to understand whether development in that particular domain, or system of develop is adequate to meet the demands of the environment. 

Developmental systems (all aspects of development form some type of system) are a matter of the qality (complexity) and number of skills in a larger system or domain of development (e.g., emotions, social skills, cognition; vision; attention; executive thinking, etc.).   

If the developmental skill set isn’t adequate, it can function as a prime predisposing antecedent condition for behavior excesses or widening developmental deficits. This gap: the gap between what the environment demands in terms of processing, understanding and responding flexibly within it, and the IP’s current developmental capactities to meet those demands – is usually somehow relative to the referral behaviors.

Analysis by Identifying Levels of Complexity

All systems undergo change and maturation, balancing and rebalancing as the environment confronts them with new information. The maturation of systems is marked more by periods of raltively static states or “plateaus,” and “leaps” into qualitatively different forms. In other words, systems don’t gradually change, they change with pauses, regressions, leaps and jerks, and they can end up very different from their current form based on perhaps a few pivotal events or “leading changes.”

Typical pathways of biological development of biological/neurological systems are well known and long documented. Characteristic evolutionary patterns of individual biological/neurological systems are also well known and long documented. These evolutionary patterns are referred to collectively as the IP’s developmental pathway, but the overall pathway is really a constantly changing set of numerous and variegated, interconnected, supporting systems.

Characteristic clusters of behaviors of the elements of a system are associated with various phases of development of systems. Certain behavioral forms or response sets and predispositions have long been identified, so we know a good deal about typical “pathways of development” (developmental stages and progressions) that are similar in form and in similar progressions across cultures and environments.

Bodies of knowledge also are systems that are in one phase of development or another. Whatever an individual “takes away” from an experience depends on the capacities of their current development of systems.

Systems have qualitatively different states of complexity in which they function. Sensory discrimination, perception (the Sensorimotor Period); the ability to find patterns in the information and form concepts, (the Preoperational and Concrete Operational Stages of Complexity) and; the ability to see differences and similarities among a wide variety of elements (abstract staes of complexity).

Rules of Biological/Developmental Systems Helpful to Know at This Point

  • Systems tend to move from simplicity towards greater states of complexity
  • Systems tend to move from undifferentiated to increasing differentiation
  • Systems tend to move from unintegrated to increasing integration internally and with other systems

Proximal to Distal (inside to Outside); Cephalo to Caudal (Head to Tail)… (Proximodistal/Cephalocaudal Axiom of Development)…

  • Systems tend to form their central parts first (proximal) and to branch off (distal) towards the extremities.
  • Systems tend to develop from head (cephalo) to tail (caudal)

Analyzing Development According to Developmental Epistemology

Jean Piaget, a Biologist that is a central figure in the field of Child Development, identified states of knowledge characterized by their complexities – that we can use to analyze any system of development, whether biological or mental, or the state of an IP’s knowledge or behavioral skills:

  • Basic discrimination and coordination: Sensory and Motor processing is primary. If the IP’s developmental capacities are limited to sensory and motor sensations and simple percepts, than the IP experiences a Sensorimotor Phase of Development in that particular domain, subdomain of development or of a knowledge system
  • Simple Organization and Pattern Recognition: The IP can find basic, tangible and overt similarities and differences in the environment and begins to understand them in terms of similarities and differences. Symbols such as words, pictures, replicas, etc. begin to represent things and then patterns of things and events. This is known as a Pre-operational Period. While the individual can see the relationship between a symbol of something and the thing it represents, the individual is not ready for thinking only in symbols. Experiences still have to be mostly hands-on
  • Understanding Basic Processes of Change: The individual can use theories based on experience of how things work; the individual can work with symbols in basic processes or “operations” such as basic math and reading operations
  • Flexible and Fluid Knowledge: At some point, the individual can make meaning and coordinate responses in a nuanced and multi-varied manner.

Piaget is best known for idenfying typical stages of cognitive, language, emotion, and moral development observed in children. He emphasized the role of experimentation and experience in the world in the development of learning systems. Piaget’s epistemology can be applied to any developmental, knowledge or behavioral system. It is briefly summarized here in order from simple to complex; undifferentiated to differentiated, and; unintegrated to integrated:



Concrete Operations

Formal Operations

Developmental Stages or “Behavioral Cusps

Behaviorists also recognize that systems behave in characteristic ways – most notably, they move forward or upward by qualitative leaps and in an exponential rather than ‘simple addition’ or linear manner.  Behaviorists prefer to use the word “cusps” to describe stages of development, to emphasize the role of learning (as opposed to preprogrammed genetic changes) in these qualitative changes.  This is well and good, but it does little to explain the similarity in the phases and sequences of phase development noted across cultures and environments.

Another primary benefit of developmental assessment is that it gives the Assessor a better idea of what the IP “takes away” from his or her experiences in the world. We tend to “appreciate” or learn from our experiences in the world according whatever knowledge states we currently have. Information that exists at abstract levels, cannot be appreciated by indidivuals that do not have the capacity to appreciate the complexity.

Lev Vygotsky, another foundational theorist in the field of Child Development, pointed out how skills at lower levels of complexity become “folded in” to more complex systems of behavior. The following examples of knowledge and behavioral systems in development shows the progression in both Piagetian (from Sensory/Experiential to Abstract and Mental/Symbolic) and Vygotskian embedding and folding in of existing skills into larger, more complex, differentiated and integrated systems.


First learning how the parts feel and respond when you move them and the way your body feels in relation to your actions on the parts. You are very focused on what your body is doing and the sensations (feedback) you’re getting from your actions and the responses of the environment (the way the car responds).

Some basic movements, such as braking and steering are becoming more automatic or “folded in.” You’re no longer concentrating on the feeling of the steering wheel – you’re now thinking about the direction in which the car is going (emerging pattern thinking)

The connections between your actions and the responses and direction and speed of the car are now folded in and you’re no longer thinking actively about them. You now pay attention to driving in real situations. You may not be a good driver, but you can operate the car under normal conditions. You tend to do as taught, and you may not be able to handle complex driving situations

Most skills are embedded or folded in. You can pay attention to a wide variety of other things while driving. Your actions reflect your intentions, not your thoughts about the actions.


The child first develops the sensory equipment needed to form very simple percepts regarding physical properties of amount: weight; size; number of elements

The child develops an awareness of basic differences and patterns: big and small; heavy and light; a lot and a little; long and short in size or time, more and less, seriation of these parameters, etc. They no longer have experience it from proximal sensation (touching and feeling it) – they can make determinations using distal senses – by looking at the amount for instance

The child can represent these concepts with sysmbols and perform basic arithmetic operations without having to count. They can come to conclusions about amounts using symbols only

Math begins to include hypotheticals and variables. “X” doesn’t really have an amount – it stands for the results of another process. There are increasing layers of operations embedded into each other. Concepts of time, space, weight, speed, motion, and other, perhaps intangible types of amounts are now part of mathematical thinking


You first learn the taste of wine. You learn to be able to tell the difference between wine and other drinks. You are realizing what is and what is not wine.

You can recognize and discriminate (appreciate) different types of wine from each other – as long as they are quite different

You no longer have to think about the elements much, and you can tell one wine from another. You can taste similarities and differences and group these characteristics according to categories

You have become a wine snob and claim not only to know the variety of grape, but also the location and year it was harvested and the side of the mountain that it grew on.

Reading and Writing

Child first develops the sensory equipment to notice changes in the environment

Child then develops the ability to track sequences and to tie them into behavioral sequences, “behavioral melodies” (patterns), which allow for simple predictions (Mom gets the backpack – we’re going to school)

Child understands others’ verbal (symbolic) descriptions of experiences and can describe experiences using verbal and nonverbal symbols

Child develops the understanding of sequence as narrative – or the unfolding changes of events and can understand others’ descriptions and describe ongoing experiences in the form of narrative to others

The ability to relate to others’ experiences in narrative form (coherent, organized and sequential experience-sharing) is well embedded in children before we really teach them seriously about reading.

The person can decode and encode written symbols for sounds and later on, words, sentences

Decoding and encoding skills become so well established and “folded in” that more complex, flexible narratives are possible and the person can think more about the ideas than the actual processes of reading and writing


You are learning basic techniques, but you really don’t understand why you’re doing them. You’re in the process of finding out how they work, how they feel

You’re becoming familiar with the techniques, but you are still very self-conscious and you miss a lot of what is going on with the kids

You can do certain lessons or instructional procedures and measure or note the effects routinely; you can manage most aspects of change within a certain regularity of routine

You can adapt to change very flexibly and do things on the fly. You are not self-conscious at all, and can be very focused on the Student while doing all of the behaviors of teaching.

We provide templates for you to make a very cursory assessment of development and to perform basic Developmental Observation (identifying the levesl of complexity the IP is capable of and comparing it tohe level of complexity demanded by the situation. You are welcomed to use your own if you are in possession and know how to use other developmental assessment tools. Sometimes, especially in the case of younger children or older children functioning at younger developmental ages in special education settings, there is Piagetian developmental information available.

Instructions for Filling out the Developmental Assessment Sections

The following subsections are meant to describe aspects of the IP’s development that are relevant to the behavior.   What we are interested in is how the IP understands and the tools he or she uses explores his world.  What we are not interested in is irrelevant information placed in the report simply because there is space for it in the Report Template.

Describing Development “Molar v. Molecular”

In this section therefore, we do not comment on “delays,” test results, or diagnoses such as mental retardation, developmental delays, etc.  Reviewing tests results or doing your own formal or informal observation of development will usually reveal that the IP’s developmental and perceptual style, traits, skills and behavior are characteristic of younger children in some respect.  This may be true in a very specific and isolated domain (rarely), or more typically, across an entire domain of development (e.g., emotions; cognition; communication), or mulitple domains (pervasive developmental disorder).

Problems with using Molar descriptions in Functional Assessment Reports

A molar description is a global one.  When performing developmental assessment, it is not uncommon for the tools you use to provide you with some kind of level or age-equivalent for development.  As a developmentalist, this can help you understand that some behaviors represent characteristic ways of understanding and exploring the world at each stage.  It is therefore helpful in a big way to know the stage – but it is not helpful to concern yourself or anyone else with the age in which the IP’s stage of development would occur in typical development.  Therefore, we do not list age and month levels or standard scores (IQs or DQs) to describe levels of functioning. Reporting that a seven-year-old has behaviors that are typical of an 8-month old provides the wrong kind of information and can be very depressing to those that care about and for the IP. It is better to report that [the IP] tends to “explore objects in reference to his body by shaking, banging, smearing (etc.)” because this gives us more of an idea of what the behavior is like. By using Piagetian analysis (below), we would then know not only more about why the behavior occurs, but we would also be able to identify a “zone of optimal development” that would help us identify a range of skills that could be used to substitute the current behavior or to teach new behaviors.

  • You do not have to fill out each and every subsection. Remark on what is remarkable (relevant to the referral issues).  The tendency is to fill out the sections as separate boxes to be filled in.  That leads to filling in sections that are not relevant, skipping relevant sections, or failing to make any connection for the reader as to why that information is relevant and how it influences behavior
  • Keep in mind what the editor needs to know
    • Have the developmental skills required by the environment been assessed and compared to the IP’s actual developmental skills?
      • Have you shown convincingly that these missing skills explain the pattern of behaviors:
        • why certain antecedents trigger the behavior and
        • why the IP responds to consequences it the way he or she does
        • Is your intervention a good match for the IP’s developmental profile?”
        • Do the Stakeholders understand their IP’s development adequately? Do you?
  • Keep in mind that the ultimate users of the report are the Family and the Therapist.  The use of templated/boilerplate functional analyses – a necessary evil in today’s world – can lead to overly elaborated, redundant and extremely unwieldy reports that arent’s even internally consistent (consistent with the rest of the report).

Therefore, with the principle of parsimony in mind, you limit the developmental information to what is relevant and remarkable.  There must be some possible relevance to the referral concerns and the expectation is that the information will be referenced somehow later on in the Functional Assessment sections. 

In the following sections we will introduce you to relevant theories about development and processing that will help guide not only your understanding of the developmental domains and processes that we assess (as per each individual development assessment section in the report: YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS STUFF ANYWAY TO BE AN EFFECTIVE EVALUATOR OF BEHAVIOR AND TEACHING), but also the possible influences developmental features of the individual might have on behavior (to help you develop a more accurate and nuanced view of the behavior), as well as information that is vital when we being to think of replacement skills to teach and intervention methods to choose.

Proceed to: