Once you have your data and have summarized it, you want to integrate it with the information you gathered through interviews and/or checklists and the record review to develop hypotheses about the behavior. Look for common themes among the types of information. Then we want to look at what functions the behaviors appear to serve. In order to do that, we have to have a good understanding of the types of functions challenging behavior.
I talked HERE about how challenging behavior serves a function for individuals. The reason for a functional behavior assessment is to determine what that function is. When we know the function of the behavior, we get to the root of the problem and we can pull it up by the roots. We have good research evidence from the last 30 years that communication and challenging behavior are closely linked and that many times the behavior serves a communicative function. What that means is that the challenging behavior is working for the individual to get what he/she needs but either isn’t getting adequately or consistently with more appropriate means, typically communication. In some cases this is because of a skill deficit–the individual doesn’t have the skill to gain the reinforcer with more appropriate methods (often communication). It can also be that the person has the appropriate skill but it isn’t working for him/her consistently. It might mean that the student’s needs are more significant than the setting allows or that the challenging behavior (e.g., hitting the teacher) is getting what the person needs more quickly, easily and/or more consistently than the appropriate behavior (e.g., asking for something).
- When Bill steals Sally’s books, Sally screams and yells for the teacher who comes over and reprimands Bill and makes him give them back.
- When Darnel hits the teacher when she is talking to the principal in the doorway and she turns around and tells him to stop.
The type of attention is not as relevant as understanding what the common reaction is to the behavior.
- A teenager wants to go to the mall and Mom says “no,” you might see challenging behavior like sulking and refusal to do chores until SOMETIMES the mom lets him go to the mall to get him out of the house.
- I’m standing in the kitchen and start to scream. Mom gets stuff out of the cupboard and starts offering them to me. When she gives me a cookie, I stop screaming.
- Leslie’s music class ends and she falls on the floor and starts to scream. The teacher tries to move her but she gets more upset. The teacher then allows her to stay in the music room for the next class because it calms her.
The consequence of getting the item (or attention or escape) doesn’t have to be consistent–it just has to happen occasionally.
- I buckle my seatbelt in the car because it keeps that nasty buzzer from going off, which I find irritating. In this case, my appropriate behavior is being reinforced by escaping something or avoiding it all together.
- A student falls on the ground and tantrums before morning meeting and the tantrum continues until morning meeting is over. Essentially the student avoided morning meeting.
- Sally is sitting in the general education classroom during music and starts to scream. Her behavior becomes so disruptive that the teacher removes her from the class.
Remember that behaviors can serve to escape from situations that are work-related or other situations such as escaping from situation that might be overstimulating.
- If I have an ear infection, there is some research that indicates that hitting my head may provide temporary relief from my ear pain.
- I start to tap my pencil in difficult situations and it has a calming effect on me.
- Bobby rocks when left alone with nothing to do.
Remember that automatic reinforcement is determined by observing if the behavior happens when there is no one around and no materials or nothing to do, not by ruling out other functions. Just because we can’t find a function, doesn’t mean it’s automatic.