IEP Process: Functional Behavior Assessments

22 Aug

I’m coming back to this series because of something I saw related to the FBA today that bugged me in a major way.

We stopped in during our community time to see Bella, who you might remember from last year. Bella has a different teacher at the psychoed center this year. She apparently had a hard summer, and I noticed she had some new fresh scratches on her face. She is not riding the bus because of behaviors there. Last year she put her head through the window. She also has issues related to aggression, cursing, compliance and staying in the classroom.

Her old teacher from last year is actually functioning as the psyhoed behavior specialist, which is amazing. She is fairly competent in managing her own students, but had no idea what a FBA was. I asked to see Bella’s FBA and it was a 7 line abomination that did not include any of the behaviors listed above including the self-injurious behaviors. The behavior intervention plan was not much better. In addition, none of the behavioral goals included any of the above targets, except for the cursing. I was hoping to find something useful to jog my memory from last year. The Present Level of Performance included the list of behaviors that Bella had exhibited while at the psychoed last year.

So, let’s talk about this FBA and ex/tend from my previous treatment when discussing the BIP.

IDEA 1997 says that if the student has behaviors that impede his/her ability to learn or the learning of others. As far as I know, IDEA 2004 does not change, alter or clarify that in any way. Clarification would be helpful as there are no guidelines for exactly how to do it. So I’ll tell how *I* do it.

The first step is to identify the target behaviors and to define them such that there would be no confusion as to what an observer is looking at when they see them. For instance, self-injurious behavior would be defined as striking, scratching, pinching or poking self with sufficient force as to cause bruising, bleeding or injury.

The next step is to assess duration, severity and frequency of the behavior as well as to assess context and consequences of a target. One way to do that is to use a checklist assessment or two, such as the FAST or the MAST, which are screening tools that can help identify the function of a behavior. Along with this, tracking the target behaviors with some sort of data collection system is essential for identifying the intent of the behaviors. Interviews with parents and other teachers are also essential features of a thorough and meaningful assessment. Reading past records, IEP’s and psychologicals can also produce some meaningful data. This also must include any and all medical data which can yield critical information.

Once all of this data is gathered, it is possible to begin writing the FBA. A proper FBA will include a description of the student and the reason why they have a BIP and an FBA. The Behaviors are listed and defined and then relevant background is presented. I’ll usually included medical information in this introduction.

Then I briefly describe the methods used for assessments. This includes what instruments are used, procedures for observations, what other materials were gathered and who was interviewed. The background and method lay the groundwork when it comes time to do a new FBA. A person can follow a similar method and merely add to the background as needed. The method also provides sufficient credibility to the process which would be crucial if courts have to get involved.

Next, I write about the results of the evaluation, going into sufficient detail as to present the data and information in a manner that would guide a reader to a logical conclusion as to the function. I’ll include a sample data sheet, scores from assessments, and any graphs and charts here. I’m also going to reveal the apparent function of the behavior here and do it so explicitly that no one can miss it in underlined, bold type e.g.

When Bella wishes to gain access to attention she will engage in self-injurious behavior such as scratching her face until she bleeds.

Finally, I write a discussion section which includes any recommendations for intervention and any concerns about the FBA. For instance, many behaviors may be multiply controlled and require different handling depending on the context or function. If there was any key information I was unable to include, I would state that here.

Basically, I’m following a format that is not altogether unlike a research article. Using this background/intro-method-results-discussion format gives me enough structure without being overly stifling. Again, this is me the writer talking. But as a parent, it would be much easier and much more interesting reading a thorough treatment of my child’s behavior than some stupid form with blanks filled in. My FBA’s become useful tools for teachers, parents and anyone who deals with a student who has behavior challenges. Neurologists and doctors have looked at and used my FBAs to make recommendations. It is very much like a sort of psychological, but more useful for looking at day-to-day behavior challenges.

A bad FBA is not worth the paper it is printed on and is a complete waste of time and space. I’m amazed more of these have not been challenged by court systems. But again, while the law says schools have to do them, they gave no guidance HOW to do it.

So I may be spending some time at the psychoed educating them. But first I’m going to see if I can speak with our new county behavior intervention specialist. Afterall, that is part of what she was hired for!



2 Responses to “IEP Process: Functional Behavior Assessments”

  1. sheri September 20, 2006 at 4:53 pm #

    um. . . how do you know that bella scratches her face because she wants attention? did you test this hypothesis and if so, how?

    reason I ask is that I have seen too many FBA’s where attention or something similar is concluded to be the function. example-as a parent in Partners in Policymaking, I attended a training by Dr. Ruth Ryan, a Denver psychiatrist who works with people with developmental disabilities and complex needs. Dr. Ryan has a slew of horrific tales where service providers focused on something as a “behavior” and missed something that was very, very wrong. one guy who habitually stuffed his fist down his throat (for attention, of course) turned out, upon medical exmination, to have advanced esophageal disease and died not long after from esophageal cancer. the fist-stuffing was a response to pain.

  2. diggerjones September 20, 2006 at 6:46 pm #

    Oops! You make a good and excellent point, and I should have said: the above statement of function was ***an example ONLY!***

    You are certainly and exactly correct in that testing the hypothesis is the only sure way to know. I merely needed an example of what such a hypothesis would look like. I would actually guess that face scratching would be escape related, but that is just a WAG. As for the self-gagging you mentioned, I have a student doing just that and he’s undergoing medical testing to rule out such a condition. This is why an FBA covering medical history and conditions factors in prominently and is often left out, especially using canned forms.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


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