Behavioral Goals

Goals are usually concerned with the target or problem behavior, and often mention the behavior in the goal statement.  Goals are written in general terms (as opposed to ‘objectives,’ which attempt to operationally define responses (or replacement behaviors) to be learned.

Behavioral Objectives

Behavioral objectives attempt to define with specificity the responses the child will learn from intervention.  Objectives, as explained further below, are very specific and must be observable, measurable, and conducive to interobserver agreement (two or more people can agree that they see the same thing, the same number of times and in the same forms as their observation partners).

Since behavioral objectives refer to learning, they must always be stated in terms of a creation or increase of the response (skill learning as opposed to behavior reduction), and never in terms of reduction.


As mentioned, goals are general in nature, and can be stated in terms of reductions of target behavior (whereas objectives cannot).  Goals are generally terse statements that tell you what the problem behavior is, while the objective goes on to define what the child should learn in order to replace the problem behavior.


XX will reduce the frequency, length, and intensity of tantrums

XX will play more appropriately with toys.


Behavioral objectives define what will be expected of the child to learn, in ways that make measurement of progress possible and unambiguous.   Behavioral objectives are usually written with the following elements:

Components of Behaviorally Written Objectives

  1. Time Frame:  How long do we expect it will take before the child will demonstrate the new response?   The ‘time frame’ reference usually starts the behavioral objective statement as follows,  “Within three months, so and so will…”
  2. Demonstration of learning or responding:  This is the ‘meat’ of the objective.  This describes how the child will demonstrate what the intervention hopes to accomplish.  There are several things to remember when writing this part of the objective:
    • It must be observable:  The way you describe the response to be learned, demonstrated, and measured must pass the test of “interobserver agreement.”   In other words, if another person saw the same response, would he or she agree with you that they are indeed seeing the same thing?   For example, look at the following examples of subjective vs. objective descriptions:

Here is an example of a poorly defined behavior.

will demonstrate a positive attitude…

 Note how vaguely the behavior is described.  There is a very good potential that independent observers collecting data at the same time would come up with very different quantities.  In other words, two different people observing behavior at the same time, may disagree on how much ‘positive attitude’ they did or did not observe.   Even if they did agree, how would they operationally define,  and how would independent observers measure the behavior in terms of an overt, measurable action?”

Here are some better examples:

…will follow directions to “Come Here” “Stop” and “Give me…”
…will request a break…
…will share toys with one peer…
…will choose an activity from his activity menu

Another Set of Poor and Better Examples of Operationally Defined Behavior

Poor example:

…will interact more successfully…

Again, two different people may disagree that the observed behavior represents ‘successful interaction.’

Better example: (Instead, it is better to describe components of successful interaction than can be observed)

…will request permission use materials before accessing them…
…will be able to state problem in objective terms…

Objectives Must Be Stated in Positive Terms

In other words, the behavior must be described in terms of what it is, and not “what it is not.”  You can only write Objectives for behaviors or skills in terms of something someone will do.  For instance, I can write an objective to supposedly get ‘Sam to stop watching TV’ or to ‘reduce the time Sam spends watching TV…’   You can achieve that by removing the TV.  Sam could stop watching TV for a variety of reasons.   Whatever he does when he’s not watching TV is the relevant thing and the relevant behavior to measure.

Objectives Must Be Stated in Terms that Promote Reliable Measurement

Your description of the [problem] behavior in the functional analysis includes baseline measurement in terms of frequency, duration, intensity, and the settings in which the behavior occurs.

Functional Equivalent Replacement Behaviors (FERBs)

Just as you defined the problem behavior in scrupulously measurable terms, you must also describe a new behavior similarly.  You describe the behaviors in ways that focus on a covert, action (a movement through space), that somehow both validly and reliably demonstrates a person’s learning and use of a skill or response.

A primary outcome of Functional Assessment of Behavior should be the identification of response or skill sets that will do as much as possible to:

  • meet the needs that the old behavior served
  • produces results that are better adapted to the environment and more mutually satisfying to the Stakeholder
  • to replace the inappropriate behavior

Well written FERBs allow development of treatment plans and steps of intervention and the subsequent initial and ongoing measurement of their progress.

An important job of the Analyst is to identify skills that can replace behavior excess.  FERBs function then as teaching objectives the intervention will address and the parameters that will be used for measuring baselines of behavior and progress.

3.   Objective Criteria:  This describes how it will be decided whether or not the child has met the objective.  The way you describe objective criteria will depend on how you have decided to measure the target response.

Typical criteria used include:

  • Number of events:  This is used when you are measuring responses that happen incidentally, such as following spontaneous directions, or demonstrating specific responses to specific situations or triggers.
  • Number of trials:  This is very similar to ‘events’ but not exactly the same.  The terms can be used interchangeably, but they really shouldn’t.

Trials refer to specific teaching situations, or other responses the child should make to specific adult initiations such as circles of communication.   Trials apply very well to intensive interventions, due to the fact that the interventionist has contrived situations that are meant to elicit target responses.

‘Events’ and ‘trials’ are typically stated in terms of a fraction:  Number of target responses observed / Number of all responses observed.

  • Rate:  Sometimes, you might want to express the “fraction” above in terms of a percentage.  In other words, 4/5 events could also be stated as, ‘80% of the time.’   This involves the number of target behaviors demonstrated divided by the number of opportunities to demonstrate the behavior.  So if “following directions” were the target behavior, and of 10 directions given, and the child followed 7 of them, then the rate would be 7/10 or 70%.
  • Length or duration:  When measuring things like playing longer, or spending more time on task, duration is the way to go.  Often, our real goal is to reduce the duration of a behavior (i.e. tantrums), but reduction targets cannot be used as criteria for intervention for the reasons explained above.
    • Latency: This is another form of duration, but has to do more with how long it took for the Student to demonstrate the skill.  For instance, if the objective is to “make a transition within ten minutes of the announcement,” or “hand in assignment on time” you would measure the time it took for the Student to respond (in minutes, hours, days, weeks, or whatever the appropriate increment) – as a latency measure.
  • Intensity: Try to avoid statements of intensity as criteria for measurement.  This is because ‘intensity’ can be subjective and difficult to define in a way that lends itself to interobserver agreement.  Use a Leikurt Scale to objectify intensity, or describe the intensity in specific terms of impact.
  • Accuracy: This has to do with how many correct, how many successful steps, or how many successful approximations a child must demonstrate in order to count as a positive event.  If you include a degree of accuracy in writing an objective, you must be careful when writing to define accuracy in incremental terms (i.e. what does 75% accuracy actually mean?).  This could mean handing in assignments that have 75% of the answers correct, or it could mean that the student washes his hands completing ¾ of the steps correctly.
  • Demonstration Period: This describes how long the child will have to consistently demonstrate the behavior in order to meet objective criterion.   Time periods we use typically range from two to three weeks, where each day the child will have to demonstrate the behaviors according to the frequency or duration defined.

Putting It Together

 Time Frame Response or Learning  Accuracy  Criterion Demonstration Period
In three months time, XX will… With 75% accuracy 4/5 events, 4/5 days for a period of two weeks.


Within 3 months time, XX will pick up and hold onto objects and look at them for 10 seconds without putting them in her mouth, 4 out of every 5 objects she picks up (4/5 events or 80% of the time), for a period of 3 weeks.

Within 3 months time, XX will pick up and hold onto objects, and explore them by palpation,  cause-effect action, and/or placing them in or pulling them out of a box, 2 out of every 5 objects (40%) she picks up,  for a period of 3 weeks.

In 3 to 4 months, XX will  be able to make choices using picture representations 80% of the time, each day for a period of 3 weeks.