A Functional Behavior Assessment, or more commonly referred to as an FBA, is an assessment used to obtain information about the potential purposes (functions) behaviors serve for an individual. FBA methods can be classified into 3 parts: (1) indirect assessment, (2) descriptive assessment, (3) functional (experimental) analysis.
You have probably heard the term FBA during your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings. The results of the FBA guide the strategies outlined in a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). Most schools only use the indirect and descriptive assessments when completing an FBA. Examples of indirect assessments are parent, teacher, or child interviews and behavior rating scales or checklists. Descriptive assessments encompass direct observation of the individual in the natural setting (classroom, cafeteria, playground, etc), ABC data collection, and scatter plots. These methods have many advantages. They are convenient to use, cost very little to complete, and do not disrupt the person’s daily routine. The information gathered from these methods can help identify hypotheses about the functions of the behaviors. It can help identify specific patterns in the behaviors such as times of day the behaviors occur. Other patterns might involve specific environments, teachers, peers or tasks that typically trigger the behaviors. The limitations to these forms are that they can often be subject to teacher or parent bias, are not always time efficient, and only identify correlational relationships not functional relationships.
You may not be as familiar with a functional analysis (FA). A FA is the only assessment in an FBA that can clearly identify functional relationships. The established hypotheses from the indirect and/or descriptive assessments are tested using an experimental design. Antecedents (what happens before the behavior) and consequences (what immediately follows the behavior) that represent those in the person’s natural routine are presented in a systematic way in order to determine the separate effect they have on the behavior. There are four conditions used: three test conditions- social positive (attention), social negative (escape), and alone- and a control condition play. Test conditions are presented one at a time and in alternating sequence to identify which conditions predictably result in problem behaviors. The results help teachers and other professionals determine replacements skills to teach and appropriate strategies to use in order to reduce problematic behaviors. The main advantage of FA is its ability to reliably identify the variables that relate to problematic behaviors. In the behavior analytic community, it is the gold standard by which other assessment alternatives are evaluated against. Some of the limitations to FA are the effort, time and professional expertise required to complete the assessment.

It is important to note that a functional analysis of problematic behaviors is not always appropriate when completing an FBA. There are times when indirect and descriptive assessments will yield enough information to address the functions of the behaviors. If your feeling confused about whether a FA should be completed during your child’s FBA, consult with a professional. Emerge BCBAs have experience completing FBAs and may be able to help you decide what level of assessment is needed for your child.