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Developing an FBA

developing an fba

Steps to Developing an FBA

A Functional Behavior Assessment, or an FBA, is a vital part of identifying problem behaviors and then developing a plan to improve those unwanted behaviors. Developing an FBA does not have to be a daunting task. The process allows the team to dig deep into what is causing the behavior so that replacements can be introduced. If we treat behavior without first determining the function, often other negative behaviors will appear in their place.  Function-based treatment is the only ethical way to decrease problem behavior. Behavior always has a reason.  

Before you Begin: Determine the Behavior

FBAs are used for students with an IEP or in an ABA program when they have behavior that is impeding their learning. Before beginning an FBA the team should consider if the behavior is urgent, like harm to self or others, is it new or a recurrence of an old behavior, is it cyclical in nature, are there medical concerns for the student or has there been a significant change in environment for the student?  Be sure to rule out medical issues before beginning. 


Once it has been determined that a behavior exists on a consistent level and that is impeding the learning of self or others the team can begin developing an FBA. The beginning is to determine the behavior. Often our students have multiple behaviors that are concerning, but we only want to focus on one at a time. The team will need to determine the behavior that is causing the most negative consequences and begin there. 

Step One – Define Behavior

The first step after determining the behavior is to create a definition. This may seem like a simple step, but the definition is very important to the process. The definition should be easy to understand so that everyone involved can be consistent. The team may consist of various therapists, teachers, and parents. Each one must be able to know when the behavior is occurring so that they can observe and measure. The definition should also include examples of what the behavior is and what the behavior is not. For example, simply stating that the behavior is yelling out is not clear enough. Where is the behavior occurring? Is it acceptable on the playground but not in the classroom? How long does the yelling last before it is considered an occurrence? You want your definition to be as detailed as possible to ensure accuracy across team members.

Step Two – Measure Behavior

Once we have a good behavioral definition of the behavior, now we can measure it. When doing this, look at the ABCs – the antecedent, the behavior and the consequence. During this stage the team will start to determine an antecedent, or what comes before the behavior. Are there certain events that are happening at the time of the behavior, like math class? Does it only happen at certain times of day, like around lunchtime? Baseline data will be collected on how often the behavior happens and how long each incident lasts so that the team can start to determine a pattern. It is also important to note the consequences that are currently being used when the behavior occurs. This is a key piece because what the adult sees as a consequence might actually be something that the student wants, like avoidance of tasks.

Step Three – Determine the Function – Behavior Always Has a Reason

Once baseline data has been collected it is time to determine the function of the behavior. We need to know what the student is trying to gain when the behavior occurs. For this we consider EATS:

E = Escape or Avoidance

A = Attention

T = Tangible (access to wanted activities or items)

S = Sensory

It is necessary to remember that a behavior can serve multiple functions. If we can find what the student wants then we can start to find replacement behaviors that we can accept in the setting we are in, mainly the classroom.

Step Four – Develop a Plan of Action

Now that we know the function of the behavior, we can start to find strategies that will steer students away from the unwanted behavior. We do this through giving the student a replacement behavior. For example, if the student is constantly yelling when they want a cookie, and they have successfully gotten a cookie from yelling in the past, then we can expect that to continue until they find another way to get the cookie. Instead we want the student to either sign or speak the word cookie. 

During this step of developing an FBA we need to keep the communication levels of the student in mind. Is their level of communication actually part of the function? We may need to step back and teach some functional communication before we can focus on the actual behavior.

We also need to be okay with giving a student some of what they want. If they sign or speak the word cookie instead of yelling, then we need to give them a cookie. Rewarding the appropriate behaviors, especially in the beginning, will be an encouragement for the positive behavior to continue. 

It’s important to teach replacement behavior, including communication as a replacement behavior.  What is the individual trying to say? 

Step Five – Monitor and Assess

The last step in the plan is to monitor and assess the plan. Collect data throughout each step and compare it to the baseline data. If the team is not seeing improvements after implementing replacement behaviors, then new strategies should be tried. As the behavior interventionist or specialist we need to make sure that we are supporting the student during this time, but also the rest of the team in keeping things moving forward.

When developing an FBA it is easy to get overwhelmed or feel like nothing is making a difference. Just remember that our number one priority is to make sure that our students can be happy and learning. After that, follow the steps, collect the data and keep trying.

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