Functional behaviour assessment

​A functional behaviour assessment (FBA) identifies where, when and the likely reasons why a behaviour of concern happens. In schools this is called the ‘function’ of the behaviour.

The information is then used to inform a behaviour support plan that includes strategies to address the reasons why the behaviour is occurring.

When to conduct an assessment

An FBA may be run when a young person’s behaviour gets in the way of their learning, the learning of other students or it causes harm to self or others.

An assessment can be conducted as often as needed. This is particularly the case when the behaviour of the student changes, there's a new behaviour of concern or a change in how often behaviour is occurring.

The assessment process

FBAs are conducted by skilled professionals with an understanding of why behaviours are occurring. This can include teachers, school leaders, allied health staff and regional staff.

An FBA is not necessarily a clinical process and does not need specific qualifications. However, if the behaviour poses a serious risk or previous strategies have not worked, it may be useful to engage a psychologist, behavioural specialist, or behaviour analyst.

The steps are:

  1. Identify the problem and defining the behaviour.
  2. Gather information about the antecedents and consequences that are triggering and maintaining the behaviour.
  3. Form a hypothesis by analysing the data to determine why the young person is demonstrating the behaviour.

After the assessment

After the assessment, you should:

  1. plan interventions to identify the modifications that are needed to change the behaviour. You may need to create a behaviour support plan for the student.
  2. implement and evaluate the effectiveness of the behaviour support plan.

Sources of information for the assessment

An FBA generally relies on multiple sources of information such as:

  • a review of the student’s school records
  • interviews with school staff and caregivers
  • structured ratings scales
  • collection of direct observation data
  • identification of any health and wellbeing concerns or issues
  • consideration of environmental conditions that may impact behaviours of concern.

Indirect assessments involve an interview, questionnaire and/or rating scale. They may provide the situations and specific times that the behaviour is most likely to occur.

Direct assessments involve observing the behaviour under naturally occurring conditions. This is without changing or manipulating the environment in any way. They can be useful in identifying environmental factors, classroom activities or times of the day that contribute to the behaviour.

Specific methods of collecting data include:

ABC data

Antecedent (A), behaviour (B), and consequence (C) data - often referred to as the ABCs of behaviour - help school teams and behaviour analysts identify patterns of behaviour.

Triggers or antecedents to behaviours of concern may include common situations such as being asked to complete a difficult or less-preferred academic task or school routine, having preferred items or activities restricted (e.g. asking a student to put his iPad® away), and during times of the day when adult or peer interaction is limited (e.g. independent work).

Knowing the elements (antecedents) that trigger a student’s reaction (behaviour) and how peers and school teams respond to the behaviour (consequences) can provide useful information as to why the behaviours continue.

When combined, this information can ultimately guide teams in developing effective interventions. Assisting teams in changing the environment and adapting the ways in which they respond to behaviours of concern may prevent or reduce the future likelihood of these behaviours.

ABC data collection

ABC data is collected by one or more staff members who frequently work or interact with the student.

This type of data can be collected for as few as two or three days or as many as several weeks, depending on how often the student attends school and how often behaviours of concern are observed.

Data may be collected throughout the day or for specified periods of time in which the behaviours are more likely to occur. The goal is to gather enough information to develop a firm hypothesis regarding the student’s behaviours that will assist with the development of effective strategies or interventions.

Tips for collecting ABC data

  1. identify who will be responsible for collecting the data
  2. identify one or two behaviours of concern that your team will prioritise
  3. define the behaviours in very specific terms so that everyone collecting the data will know exactly what behaviours to include and when a specific behaviour occurred. A good definition is one that could be given to someone who does not know the student but would be able to identify the behaviour(s)
  4. decide when and how often data will be collected
  5. when collecting data, try to capture what is happening in as few words as possible (see examples below)
  6. limit your data to what you observe the student or staff doing. Avoid making assumptions about what the student or staff are thinking or feeling
  7. antecedent data: should include information on what occurred directly before the behaviour was observed. Consider situations like the following:
    • student working alone
    • adult gives a direction (e.g. “do your math”; “Yyu need to walk”; “wit your turn”)
    • teacher tells student to put his phone away
    • student loses a turn during game with peer.
  8. behaviour data: should describe the student’s behaviours of concern. Here are some examples:
    • “threw book”
    • “ripped school materials off wall”
    • “punched a student”
    • “stood on the table”
    • “knocked the desk over”
    • “ran out of the classroom”
    • “spit at teacher”
  9. consequence data: should describe how other adults or peers responded to the student’s behaviours. Some examples:
    • teacher told the student to stop and discussed behaviour
    • peers laughed
    • sent to office to talk to principal
    • removed writing task and redirected to another activity
    • walked away and ignored student.

Scatter plots

A scatter plot provides information about the details of the behaviours of concern: when and during what activities they occur. It also can help teams identify when the student does well or the activities in which no behaviours of concern are observed.

This information can assist teams in identifying specific factors surrounding school routines that may increase or decrease behaviours of concern (e.g. noisy or less structured routines, academic routines, routines that occur earlier in the day or later, etc.)

Scatter plot data collection

Scatter plot data is collected by one or more staff who frequently work or interact with the student.

This data is typically collected for one or two weeks across the student’s entire school day.

Tips for collecting scatter plot data

  1. make a list or schedule of the student’s weekly activities and a timetable of when the activities occur (see attached example)
  2. identify and define one or two behaviours of concern that your team will collect data on
  3. identify who will be responsible for collecting data throughout the day
  4. if a behaviour of concern is observed during an activity. Indicate this by placing an “X” in the timetable that corresponds to that activity or time of day. If no behaviours occur, leave that area blank
  5. if data is not collected during an activity, use a different code to indicate this.

ABC and scatter plot templates

Download the template to print out blank forms and completed samples

Relationship with behaviour support plans

An FBA is one source of information that informs a behaviour support plan.

You can develop a behaviour support plan without an FBA and in many circumstances this would be appropriate.

However, for particularly challenging behaviours of concern, a behaviour support plan may be more effective where it is informed by an FBA. Without an understanding of the function of the behaviour the plan may be less successful.

Many teachers develop behaviour support plans for students based on their own observations, understanding and knowledge of students’ behaviours, triggers and environmental factors.

Parent consent

FBAs conducted by the Department do not need explicit parent consent, however it's best practice to consult with parents or carers.

This is so they understand why an FBA is needed. You should involve parents and carers where possible to understand why the behaviour is occurring and what the triggers are.

Parents and carers should also be involved in creating the student's behaviour support plan through a student support group.

FBAs conducted by external consultants must have explicit parent consent. You should make sure the parents understand the consultant will be sharing information with the Department (for example, to create the behaviour support plan).