A functional assessment examines antecedents to the problem behavior and the consequences that occur following the behavior. A hypothesis is then formed about what outcome the student gains by using this problem behavior.
The outcome, from the student's perspective, is in terms of either:
- Getting something desired (This behavior is working, or has worked in the past, to gain something. In other words, the behavior maintains because it is "positively reinforced."), or
- Protesting, Escaping or Avoiding something undesired (This behavior is working, or has worked in the past, to remove, partially remove, or communicate displeasure about something undesired by the student. In other words, the behavior maintains because it is "negatively reinforced.")
Importance of Functional Assessment
It is imperative that the team designing a behavior plan carefully develop the hypothesis about the function of behavior. The plan will both teach a replacement behavior that meets the same function and will specify environmental alterations that remove the need for the student to use this problem behavior to get his/her needs met. For example, if the hypothesis of the behavior is "revenge," a plan would teach the child how to get revenge in a better way, which is not a viable option. However, if the hypothesis of the behavior is "a protest about the past action of peers," the plan would teach the student a more appropriate protest form that would meet his/her needs, which is a viable option.
PENT members have found the following materials useful in teaching educators about functional assessment and the gathering of data to develop hypotheses: