Identifying Behavior for a Functional Behavior Analysis

An Operational Definition Will Help Manage Challenging Behavior

Child misbehaving at school
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Identify Behaviors

The first step in an FBA is to identify the specific behaviors that are impeding a child's academic progress and need to be modified. They will most likely include one or more of the following:

  • Leaving their seat during instruction.
  • Calling out answers without raising their hand, or without permission.
  • Cursing or other inappropriate language.
  • Kicking or hitting other students or staff.
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior or sexualized behavior.
  • Self-Injurious Behavior, such as head banging, pulling fingers back, digging at skin with pencils or scissors.

Other behaviors, such as violent ideation, suicidal ideation, long periods of crying or withdrawal may not be appropriate subjects for an FBA and a BIP, but may require psychiatric attention and should be referred to your director and the parents for appropriate referrals. Behaviors related to a clinical depression or schizo-effective disorder (early pre-cursor of schizophrenia) may be managed with a BIP, but not treated.

Behavior Topography

The topography of a behavior is what the behavior looks like objectively, from the outside. We use this term to help us avoid all the emotional, subjective terms we might use to describe difficult or annoying behaviors. We may feel that a child is "being disobedient," whereas what we see is a child who finds ways to avoid classwork. The problem may not be in the child, the problem may be that the teacher expects the child to do academic tasks that the child cannot do. A teacher who followed me in a classroom put demands on the students that did not take their skill levesl into account, and she harvested a boatload of aggressive, defiant and even violent behavior. The situation may not be a problem of behavior, but a problem of instruction.

Operationalize Behaviors

Operationalize means to define the target behaviors in ways that they are clearly defined and measurable. You want the classroom aide, the general education teacher and the principal all to be able to recognize the behavior. You want each of them to be able to conduct part of the direct observation. Examples:

  • General definition: Johnny doesn't stay in his seat.
  • Operational definition: Johnny leaves his seat for 5 or more seconds during instruction.
  • General definition: Lucy throws a tantrum.
  • Operational definition: Lucy throws herself on the floor, kicks and screams for longer than 30 seconds. (If you can redirect Lucy in 30 seconds, you probably have other academic or functional fish to fry.)

Once you have identified the behavior, you're ready to start collecting data to understand the function of the behavior.

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Your Citation
Webster, Jerry. "Identifying Behavior for a Functional Behavior Analysis." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Webster, Jerry. (2023, April 5). Identifying Behavior for a Functional Behavior Analysis. Retrieved from Webster, Jerry. "Identifying Behavior for a Functional Behavior Analysis." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).