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Functional Behavioral Assessments

At Behaved Brain, while we work with anxiety, stress management and emotional regulation, we also see many kids with behavior struggles.  Behavior struggles are difficult for everyone, with the child feeling lost and out of control and the parent feeling discouraged and concerned that their child is “the bad kid.” (WE don’t like the word BAD).

Children act the way they feel.  If there is a behavioral struggle, your child is trying to express his or her feelings, but lacks the coping skills and emotional verbiage to communicate effectively. Our treatment strategies involve addressing these goals in session, building rapport, and collaborating with the adults in the child’s life.

There are also formal assessments available to help you (and your treatment providers) better determine what strategies and plans may have the best chance of succeeding.  One such assessment is called a Functional Behavioral Assessment (typically abbreviated as “FBA”).

A FBA is done by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who is a masters or doctorate level professional and is trained to go into a situation, observe the child and environment, take data, and assess what the function or reinforcement behind the child’s behavior(s) could be. The goal of a FBA is to troubleshoot behavior, decide what the reinforcement/gain to the child is, and put into place a behavior plan and treatment that works for the child.

There are typically four functions a BCBA looks for: (1) sensory maintained/seeking behaviors: (2) escape maintained behaviors; (3) behaviors to gain access to a preferred item; and (4) attention seeking behaviors.  There are a number of reasons children engage in these behaviors and often behaviors are maintained by more than one function.

After collecting data, performing interviews, and conducting observations, a BCBA will (or should) provide you with a report summarizing the data and hypothesis of their findings.  This report should provide the data showing what is reinforcing your child’s behavior, suggest interventions that may help your child, and provide a treatment plan with options for addressing the behavior(s).

For example, very often we hear “We have done time out it doesn’t work” or “We have done everything and he/she is still acting out.”   If the behavior is attention maintained, time out procedures don’t always work, unless implemented a specific way.  If, on the other hand, a behavior is sensory maintained and there is no sensory input in place, behaviors will continue.  In other words, the most-effective treatment strategies are not universal.  Instead, they must be tailored to suit your child.

Schools usually have a BCBA or behaviorist on staff, which you can request (in writing) to observe your child.  Also, there are private agencies that can conduct FBAs.  FBAs conducted by experienced, private clinicians typically cost between $3,500-$5,000 dollars, but are well worth the investment if the BCBA is skilled and you are able to get the problematic behaviors under control.

A few final tips. First, behavior data collection, called ABC data (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence) helps examine function. Make sure that your BCBA is using this form of data collection when performing observations.  Second, behavior should be observed at minimum of 1 hour in each setting where the child is showing such behavior.

Autism NJ has a great resource of BCBAs that are available in our area (while BCBAs can work with any diagnosis population, they often work with children with Autism due to the common behavioral issues associated with Austim/ASD):  http://www.autismnj.org

Here are some great books on behavior management in children

And some great behavior charts: