Functional Behavior Assessments

According to the stereotype, students suffering from Emotional Behavioral Disorders (EBDs) pose some of the biggest behavioral challenges in the classroom. If a child’s EBD is severe enough, they are likely to receive special services within their school. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) of 1997, a school is required to perform something called a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) whenever a child has his/her placement changed as a result of discipline.

An FBA is a process used to collect information on a child. The data is used to determine why the behavioral problems are occurring and what can be done to address them. Once the FBA has been completed the information is then used to develop a positive behavior intervention plan.

Data for the FBA must be comprehensive and collected in several ways. Typical strategies are:

• School staff may interview the parent and child.
• Child may be observed in different settings (e.g. lunchroom, classroom, playground, etc.)
• Written reports are gathered from teachers.
• Team reviews child assessments and records.

The results of this process should lead to a hypothesis about why this behavior occurs.

Implicit to the FBA process is that children suffering from EBDs need to be explicitly taught new, more positive behaviors. When a student misbehaves, it is usually because it serves them some sort of purpose. For instance, if a student learns that fighting in school will get him suspended (something he happens to enjoy), he will likely continue with this behavior. So in order to teach a child new behaviors, we must first discover what causes their poor behavior to occur and what function it is serving them.

FBAs are distinct from punishments and consequences in that they are geared toward teaching new behaviors. Punishments are meant to provide motivation not to commit the behavior again. The problem with this, however, is that in punishing we are 1) failing to equip the child with new skills in order to avoid future punishment 2) the child often purposely seeks out certain punishments. The ultimate goal is to teach the child positive behaviors that will serve a greater function for the child than did their old behaviors. Once this is done, the child will eventually learn how to manage their own behavior.

By Emily Banks


“Functional Behavior Assessments and Positive Interventions: What Parents Need to Know” by Dixie Jordan
Pacer Institute