How an FBA Can Help Children in the Classroom

A young girl being punished at school

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An FBA is a functional behavioral assessmentIt represents an attempt to look beyond the obvious interpretation of behavior as "bad" to determine what function it may be serving for a child. Quite often, understanding why a child behaves the way they do is the first step to developing strategies to prevent the behavior. 

What Happens During an FBA?

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools are required by law to use functional behavior assessments when dealing with challenging behavior in students with special needs. As a parent, you may need to specifically push for an FBA if you see a direct need. 

An FBA is usually done by a behavioral specialist. It then becomes the basis for a Behavior Intervention Plan, which is designed specifically for your child to counteract a particularly challenging behavior.

The process typically involves documenting the antecedent (what comes before the behavior), the behavior, and the consequence (what happens after the behavior) over a number of weeks. This is done by interviewing teachers, parents, and others who work with your child.

The FBA also evaluates how a child's disability may affect their behavior. Further, it may involve manipulating the environment to see if a way can be found to avoid the behavior. 

FBA Use Example

There are many instances when an FBA may be needed, but let's take a look at just one example.

A student who acts up frequently in class may be sent to stand in the hallway. A functional behavior assessment may find that the student acts up only during times when a lot of writing is required in class. It may also discover that he has documented difficulty with fine motor skills. Therefore, the misbehavior serves the function of getting him out of written work. 

The FBA may recommend adding supports to reduce the amount of writing needed and give the student tools to make writing easier. This may eliminate the behavior in a way that escalating punishments never will. After all, sending the child to the principal's office, making his parents come to get him, and suspending him is equally as effective in meeting the goal of getting out of class when it's time to write.

When Should an FBA Be Employed?

Ideally, an FBA would be started soon after the behavior becomes a problem. This allows the behavioral specialist time to observe the behavior and implement a change in a timely manner.

However, given the realities of school staffing, the gap between the recognition of a need for assessment and the actual assessment taking place may be weeks or even months. Meanwhile, the behavior continues to occur. This means that the student keeps being disruptive and it interferes with their learning proper behavior. It can really be a challenge for both teachers and parents.

While you're waiting, you might consider strategizing with the teacher and child study team. Some parents have also tried to propose a behavior plan of their own to serve as a substitute until a formal FBA can be administered.

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  1. U.S. Department of Education. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Sec. 300.530 (f).