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14 Apr 2012
Understanding Problem Behaviors through Functional Assessment
Focus on behavioral procedures for understanding problem behaviors
and increasing and decreasing existing behaviors
To understand why the person engages in the behavior, you must
conduct an assessment of the three-term contingency to determine
the antecedent events the evoke the behavior and the reinforcing
consequences that maintain it
Process of identifying these variables before treating a problem
behavior is called “ Fundamental Assessment”
Examples of Functional Assessment
Jacob engaged in problem behaviors involving throwing objects,
banging his head on the ground and whining
First step was to conduct a functional assessment to determine why
Jacob was engaging in these behaviors
Asked questions about the problem behaviors to this mom, figuring
out the antecedent circumstances, the consequences were reliably
associated with the behavior
After based on the information from the interview and the
observations develop a hypothesis
To determine if the hypothesis was correct, conduct a brief
Antecedent Other kids play with Jacob’s toys Behavior Jacob
bangs his head, whines and throws toys, Consequence Kids return
Jacob’s toys to him
Outcome: Jacob is more likely to engage in head-banging, whining and
toy-throwing when other children play with his toys
Treatment: Jacob to learn to ask for the toys (functionally equivalent
to the problem behavior)
Treatment helped Jacob replace the undesirable behavior with a
desirable behavior
** Conducting a functional assessment is always the first step in using
behavior modification procedures to decrease problem behaviors
Defining Functional Assessment
Behavior is “lawful” – behavior occurs as a function of environmental
Respondent behavior is controlled by antecedent stimuli
Operant behavior is controlled by antecedents and consequences that
make up three-term contingencies of reinforcement and punishment
Functional Assessment is the process of gathering information about
the antecedents and consequences that are functional related to the
occurrence of a problem behavior provides information that helps
you determine why a problem behavior is occurring
The info on the three-term contingency will help you to identify the
antecedents that have stimulus control over the behavior and the
reinforcing consequences that maintain the behavior
Categories of Information from a Functional Assessment
Problem Behaviors: An objective description of the behaviors that
make up the problem
Antecedents: An objective description of environmental events
preceding the problem behavior, including aspects of the physical
environment and the behavior of other people
Consequences: An objective description of environmental events that
follow the problem behavior, including aspects of the physical
environment and the behavior of other people
Alternative behaviors: Information on desirable behaviors in the
person’s repertoire that may be reinforced to compete with the
problem behavior
Motivational variables: Information on environmental events that may
function as ‘ establishing operations ‘ or ‘ abolishing operations’ to
influence the effectiveness of Reinforcer and punishers for the
problem behaviors and alternative behaviors
Potential Reinforcer: Information on environmental events including
physical stimuli and the behavior of other people that may function
as Reinforcer and be used in a treatment program
Previous Interventions: Information on the interventions that have
been used in the past and their effects on the problem behavior
Functions of Problem Behaviors
- Primary purpose of functional assessment is to identify the function of the
problem behavior
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