ABA Jargon: Functional Behavior Analysis (FBA)



Our jargon for today, FBA if, I know it sounds like, "What is this, some sister union with the FBI? What are we talking about here?" Let's take a look at our actual definition, first of all. FBA stands for...you ready?...Functional Behavior Assessment. Ew, doesn't that sound official. It is a multi-step, problem-solving, assessment process designed to determine the function of a behavior. Well ladies and gentlemen, woo hoo, what does that have to do with me and how can I use this? How can this make my day better?

This is why we look at the Jargon of the Day. I remember the first time I looked this up, and I went, great, what do I do with that? So let's take a look at our working definition for an FBA. FBA, and this is only slightly better, an essential process that helps us understand why a challenging behavior is happening so that we can change it effectively.

Okay, we are all engaged in behavior all the time, every day, every moment of the day. So are individuals who are on the autism spectrum. And like all of us, sometimes individuals on the autism spectrum engage in behavior that doesn't help them to get what they want. We all do this too, right?

And if we want to be able to help somebody, anyone, on the spectrum, off the spectrum, to engage in the behavior that they want to do more often to get the things that they want. First we have to figure out why are they engaging in the negative behavior and what can we do to get them interested in engaging in the behavior that they need to do to make the progress, all right? Sort of like, we always talk about the carrot and the stick, that sometimes you do something because you know you're gonna get something for it, right? Even the negative behaviors that we all engage in, if we do it again, and again, and again, it's because we're getting some sort of personal paycheck from it.

When we see a child who's on the autism spectrum, who's flapping their hands, or biting their hand, or biting another child, we know that this is not random behavior. This is not happening because of "autism." This is happening because there is some sort of a paycheck that they're getting for it. And until we know what the paycheck is, we are not going to be effective in changing that behavior.

For instance, if a child is biting on their hand, it could be because their hand itches. Or it could be because their tongue itches, right. And that the only thing that aleves that is chewing on something. It could be that they're doing it because they're getting attention when they do it.

That the only way that they get the teacher's attention, the teacher is so busy doing everything under the sun, but when they bite on their hand the teacher says, "Hey Billy, don't do that," and comes over and spends a lovely moment with him. So I know, I bite my hand I get the attention that I need.

It could be that they're doing it to get out of something. I'm biting my hand because as soon as I bite my hand somebody comes over, or takes everything away and takes me someplace else, and I get out of doing the activity that they were asking me to do. And it could be that they're doing it simply because it feels good, right? There are so many other reasons why they could be biting their hand, but imagine if we tried to get in and we say to ourselves "Oh they're doing it for attention" without really having looked at it. They're doing it for attention and we cut off the attention and the behavior happens more often, then perhaps we've gotten it wrong. We would never...

I always use the example of a car, when your car is doing something and it's making a funny noise, we don't take it into the mechanic and say, "I want you to totally change the engine," right? 'Cuz we may not need a new engine. We bring it in, we tell the mechanic "This is what I see happening," then what does the mechanic do? The mechanic takes your car and drives it around, tries to recreate the moment in which it was happening, right? So that they can study it and look at it, they come back to you and they say, "Oh, you know, it's your radiator. You need a new radiator. This is what we're going to do to fix it."

Same thing with a behavior, right? When we see a behavior that's happening that we go, "Okay, this is a problem, this is preventing us from getting to the progress," we call an expert.

In this case, it would be a board certified behavior analyst, just like your mechanic, right? So you'd go to your board certified behavior analyst and you say, "Here is what I see happening," and they would ask you a bunch of questions just like the mechanic.

This is the beginning of this FBA that they're doing. The Functional Behavior Assessment starts with asking everyone questions.

Then what does the mechanic do next? The mechanic drives it around and sees what the problem is, right? The same thing with the BCBA, they will try to see the behavior when it's happening so that they figure out, why is the behavior happening?

That's really what an FBA is. It's when an expert looks at this behavior, interviews people and then watches it in real time to see why this is happening. They come up with the function of the behavior. This behavior is happening because it gets the individual attention. If we try to change a behavior without knowing why it's happening, we run the risk of making the behavior worse and in some cases that can be really dangerous.

So why is an FBA powerful to you? For all of you who write in and say, "The teacher sent home a note and said my son is in detention. Or my son hit another child. Or my son isn't paying attention. And we don't know what to do, 'cuz we're not there. The teacher is the person who's supposed to be telling us what they're doing, right?

An FBA is what we ask for. This is how we cut through all of the shenanigans. We say to the school, we say to the teacher, "Hey, how 'bout if we do an FBA on that behavior? You sent me a note. You said they're engaging in behavior. I'm asking for an FBA." Ask for it in writing. They will need to get their...we're getting into Jargonland, right. They will need to get the BCBA that's on staff, but that BCBA will come in and help your teacher.

They will interview the teacher, probably, you know, anyone else who is interacting with the child. They might even interview you and then they will observe what's happening in the classroom. At the end, they will be able to give you a behavior intervention plan that's what's right for the child. You will get to the progress quicker. And isn't that what we all want?

So this is why an FBA is your friend. Whenever you see a behavior, if it's happening at home, just ask your team that is working with you, "Why is this happening? Did we do an FBA on it? Can we do an FBA?"

If you're not working with a team, there is something that you can do on your own. There is a home-based version of it that's called the CFA, and that is available to you in Skills, which we talked about.

You can go to skillsforautism.com. You can try the 14-day free trial, go into the Behavioral section, do what they call the CFA, which is a modified version of an FBA, so that you can try to figure out what the function of the behavior is. Skills will also help you to create the behavior intervention plan based on what you said in the CFA.

This is the way we get to progress. It's the first step. So ask for the FBA if it's happening at school. Ask for the FBA if you're working on a team at home. And if you don't have those things, you can do it in Skillsforautism.com, Behavioral tab, go into what they call the CFA and it will walk you through the entire thing. You will get to the progress.

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