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The Link Between Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBAs)
Behavioral Intervention Plans (BIPs)
The ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education
ERIC EC Digest #E592
Authors: Kristine Jolivette, Terrance M. Scott, and C. Michael
The 1997 Amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) require functional behavioral assessments
(FBAs) and behavioral intervention plans (BIPs) to be conducted
prior to a change in placement or suspension for more than 10
days based on inappropriate behavior(s) for students with
disabilities. When an FBA and a BIP are developed, written, and
implemented, both become part of the student's IEP records.
Most research efforts have focused on procedures for conducting
an FBA. Fitzsimmons (1998) summarized the typical processes of
conducting FBAs, which include five core steps: (1) verify the
seriousness of the problem; (2) define the problem behavior in
concrete terms; (3) collect data on possible causes of problem
behavior; (4) analyze the data; and (5) formulate and test a
hypothesis. However, individuals who conduct FBAs do not
necessarily incorporate these data into the student's BIP.
Link Between Assessment and Intervention
Research has demonstrated that FBAs can lead to the development
of effective, proactive BIPs (Gable, Hendrickson, & Sasso, 1995).
Depending on the hypotheses resulting from the FBA, the BIP might
include changing the variables that precede the inappropriate
behavior(s), teaching alternative forms of appropriate behavior,
and providing reinforcement for appropriate behavior (Flannery,
O'Neill, & Horner, 1995). Thus, BIPs tied to the FBA data are
child-, behavior-, and setting-specific (Iwata, Vollmer, &
Zarcone, 1990; Rutherford & Nelson, 1995) and therefore enhance
the likelihood that the expected behavioral change will occur.
Also, an FBA can aid in the early identification (Feil, Severson,
& Walker, 1995) and understanding future behavior problems (Iwata
et al., 1990).
Scott and Nelson (1999) have proposed a ten-step process to help
school personnel infuse the FBA data into the BIP:
- Determine the function of the undesired behavior. Based
on data from the FBA, understanding the purpose the behavior
serves for the student is requisite to the BIP process. Common
functions for school-based behavioral problems include gaining
teacher or peer attention, escaping or avoiding specific tasks or
persons, or gaining access to specific items.
- Determine an appropriate replacement behavior. After the
inappropriate behavior has been objectively defined and its
function has been identified, an alternative, appropriate
replacement behavior is selected. A replacement behavior should
be readily acceptable to others in the environment (socially
valid) and serve the same function as the inappropriate behavior.
For example, if a student's inappropriate behavior is reinforced
by teacher attention, then the replacement behavior also should
result in teacher attention. It is important that school
personnel agree on what constitutes an appropriate replacement
behavior given the specific data (e.g., persons, settings,
conditions) gleaned from the FBA. O'Neill et al. (1997) suggest
that in some cases, a primary (i.e., long-term) replacement
behavior needs to be identified along with several short-term
replacement behaviors. These short-term behaviors are taught,
modeled, and reinforced to assist the student in achieving the
replacement behavior and the written behavioral goal and
- Determine when the replacement behavior should occur. Once a
replacement behavior is identified, we must teach the student to
use the new skill. This is accomplished by determining the
conditions under which that behavior will serve the same
function. A student who uses a replacement behavior when
reinforcement is unavailable is less likely to attempt the
replacement behavior again, even when reinforcement is likely.
Thus, we must clearly define and teach the specific conditions
under which the replacement behavior should be used. The student
must be taught to discriminate the conditions in which to use the
replacement behavior in order to achieve the desired outcome for
it. At the same time, the conditions under which reinforcement is
unlikely to occur for the replacement behavior should be
identified and taught as non-examples.
- Design a teaching sequence. As with academic instruction,
social and behavioral skills need to be taught through a planned
sequence of instruction within ongoing school routines. After
steps 1-3 are completed, a plan for teaching the replacement
behavior is implemented by providing the student with examples
and non-examples of when, where, and with whom to display the
replacement behavior, what he/she will gain by exhibiting the new
behavior, and the circumstances in which the replacement behavior
is not likely to be reinforced. Actually reinforcing the
replacement behavior during the examples may make its outcomes
- Manipulate the environment to increase the probability of
success. Based on the FBA data (e.g., specific settings, people,
times, tasks), the student's environment should be arranged so
that reinforcing each instance of the replacement behavior is
likely. However, reinforcement will not be possible if the
student does not use the replacement behavior. This step involves
procedures to increase the likelihood that the replacement
behavior will be used at the appropriate time so that
reinforcement can be delivered. Prompts, cues, and pre-correction
strategies may be used to increase the likelihood of replacement
behaviors. As a general rule, we should use the least intrusive
prompts necessary to predict success.
- Manipulate the environment to decrease the probability of
failure. The environment is also analyzed to identify and remove
barriers that might prevent the replacement behavior from being
demonstrated under the appropriate conditions. For example, if we
know that a student is unlikely to engage in a replacement
behavior when seated next to a particular peer, then we also know
that reinforcement will be unlikely. We can increase the
likelihood of success by removing the predictors of failure. That
is, we can separate the student from the peer during initial
stages of intervention so that the student can receive
reinforcement for appropriate replacement behavior.
- Determine how positive behavior will be reinforced. The goal
of this step is to provide natural (functionally equivalent and
naturally occurring) reinforcement for replacement behaviors.
Initially, reinforcement must be immediate and consistent. But
over time, reinforcement will be delivered on a more natural
schedule by the natural environment. A plan is needed to assist
school personnel and researchers to naturally reinforce instances
of the replacement behavior. At this step, reinforcement for
displays of the replacement behavior will vary in terms of type
(e.g., verbal or tangible reinforcement) and schedule (e.g.,
reinforcement every second display of the replacement behavior).
- Determine consequences for instances of problem behavior.
Even the most appropriate BIP will not immediately negate the
student's history of reinforcement for prior inappropriate
behavior. Therefore, the BIP should include consequences for
inappropriate behavior and strategies for their use. This step
clearly establishes a distinction between outcomes for the
replacement behavior as opposed to the consequences of
inappropriate behavior. Such a clear distinction increases the
chances that the replacement behavior will be used more often,
since the function of that behavior is being reinforced.
- Develop a data collection system. In order to ascertain
whether the replacement behavior has been effective in decreasing
the frequency, duration, or intensity of the targeted
inappropriate behavior, data must be collected. Data should be
collected on the targeted behavior before intervention to provide
a baseline and during intervention. Comparing baseline and
intervention data facilitates evaluation of intervention
effectiveness. School personnel and researchers should carefully
select a data collection method that best matches the settings in
which the BIP will be implemented.
- Develop behavioral goals and objectives. To assess overall
effectiveness and positive changes in the student's behavior,
school personnel and researchers should write measurable
behavioral goals and objectives related to the replacement
behavior. These student-specific behavioral goals and objectives
provide standards for evaluating whether changes in the
frequency, duration, and/or intensity of the target and
replacement behaviors have met objective criteria. O'Neill and
colleagues (1997) provide examples of measurable and objective
Viewing FBAs and BIPs as a Unit
Overall, it may be more appropriate to view the IDEA mandates on
FBAs and BIPs as a single, continuous process rather as a
separate process and a subsequent product. Such a view may ensure
that (a) the FBA is not interpreted to be "an intervention in
itself" (Nelson, Roberts, Mathur, & Rutherford, 1999), (b) the
FBA does not occur without the intention of developing a BIP, (c)
the FBA data are incorporated into an actual BIP, and (d) both
the FBA data and the BIP become integral components of the
student's IEP (stressing both academic and behavioral instruction
and goals). BIPs tied to the function maintaining the student's
behavior (as identified through the FBA), which are consistently
implemented and continuously monitored, may not only increase the
student's repertoire of appropriate behaviors, but also may have
positive effects on the student's educational outcomes.
Feil, E.G., Severson, H.H., Walker, H.M. (1995). Identification
of critical factors in the assessment of preschool behavior
problems. Education and Treatment of Children, 18,
Fitzsimmons, M.K. (1998). Functional behavior assessment and
behavior intervention plans. (ERIC EC Digest E571). Reston, VA:
Council for Exceptional Children. (http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/eric/e571.html).
Flannery, K.B., O'Neill, R.E., & Horner, R.H. (1995). Including
predictability in functional assessment and individual program
development. Education and Treatment of Children, 18,
Gable, R., Hendrickson, J.M., & Sasso, G.M. (1995). Toward a more
functional analysis of aggression. Education and Treatment of
Children, 18, 226-242.
Iwata, B.A., Pace, G., Kilter, M., Cowdery, G., & Cattalo, M.
(1990). Experimental analysis and extinction of self-injurious
escape behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis,
Iwata, B.A., Vollmer, T.R., & Zarcone, J.R. (1990). The
experimental (functional) analysis of behavior disorders:
Methodology, applications, and initiations. In A.C. Repp & N.N.
Singh (Eds.) Perspectives on the use of nonaversive and aversive
interventions for persons with developmental disabilities (pp.
301-330). Sycamore Press: Sycamore, IL.
Nelson, J.R., Roberts, M.L., Mathur, S.R., & Rutherford, R.B.
(1999). Has public policy exceeded our knowledge base? A review
of the functional behavioral assessment literature.
Behavioral Disorders, 24, 169-179.
O'Neill, R.E., Horner, R.H., Albin, R.W., Sprague, J.R., Storey,
K., & Newton, J.S. (1997). Functional assessment and program
development for problem behavior (2nd Edition). Pacific Grove,
CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
Rutherford, R.B., & Nelson, C.M. (1995). Management of aggressive
and violent behavior in schools. Focus on Exceptional
Children, 26, 1-16.
Scott, T.M., & Nelson, C.M. (1999). Using functional behavioral
assessment to develop effective behavioral intervention plans: A
ten step process. Submitted for Publication. University of
Kentucky, Lexington, KY.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely
reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This publication was
prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, under Contract No. ED-99-CO-0026. The opinions expressed in this
report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of
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