When you have a child with academic, social, or behavioral challenges, providing them with the correct supports can be an overwhelming and confusing process. How do you ensure that teachers and therapists effectively meet the needs of your child? For many families, the creation of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) accomplishes this goal. An IEP is a legal document that outlines the specific supports, services, and instructional methods a child needs to make meaningful progress in a school setting.

If your child also engages in challenging behavior, additional supports, assessments, and written plans may be necessary. These documents provide the educational team with a structured protocol, ensuring that they work collaboratively to reduce challenging behaviors, teach functional replacement behaviors, and assist with creating an optimal learning environment for your child.

What is an FBA?

A Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) is the first step of the behavior evaluation process. Typically, an FBA is conducted after the classroom teacher or a related service provider identifies concerns about the frequency or intensity of certain behaviors. The goal of an FBA is to describe a child’s challenging behavior, discover the reasons why those behaviors are occurring, and to develop a plan to teach adaptive alternatives to those behaviors.

Once concerns have been raised, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) will conduct a FBA. They will gather information systematically through both direct and indirect measures. Direct measures include observations and data collection. ABC data collection is a direct measurement tool that evaluates the antecedents (i.e. what happened before a behavior occurred), behavior (i.e. what the child did), and the consequences (i.e. how the adult responded) in relation to challenging behavior. ABC data indicates the factors that influence behavior and helps discover why a particular reaction may occur. In addition to ABC data, the evaluator completes several observations of the child in his or her natural environment. The purpose of conducting an observation is to watch and document behavior as it is happening. Direct observation allows the BCBA to see, not only the frequency and severity of the behavior, but also the antecedents and consequences that impact each situation. BCBAs also use indirect measures which often include informal rating scales, parent/teacher/therapist interviews, and a review of the child’s records. Each of these indirect measures allows the people who know the child best to contribute information about why a particular behavior occurs.

The information collected during the FBA process helps to answer the question “Why are challenging behaviors occurring?” After assembling the relevant information and reviewing it thoroughly, the BCBA will identify the reasons why behaviors are occurring. The information from the FBA is then used to create a Behavior Intervention Plan.

What is a BIP?

A Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is a set of protocols aimed to address a child’s challenging behavior. This document provides the educational team with a consistent set of written strategies to use on a day-to-day basis with a child.

The first step is to describe, in detail, the child’s challenging behaviors. It is important to write these descriptions in a way that explains what the behavior “looks like.” This ensures that the behaviors can be easily tracked and recorded by the educational team. In addition to behavioral descriptions, the BIP also includes antecedent-based interventions, adaptive alternatives to challenging behavior, a reinforcement plan, and consequence procedures.

Antecedent-based interventions are strategies designed to stop a behavior before it begins. Some examples include the use of visual supports, transitional warnings, and the arrangement of the environment. Replacement behaviors are behaviors that provide a functional alternative to challenging behavior. For example, children who engage in escape-maintained behavior are often taught to request a break. Asking for a break is a functionally equivalent request. It allows the child to escape from the task briefly but also ensures that they return to work once the break is over.

Designating a reinforcement system is another essential aspect of a BIP and ensures the delivery of positive praise or rewards in response to desired behaviors. When appropriate behaviors are rewarded in a positive way, it increases the likelihood of appropriate behaviors recurring in the future.

The final section included in a BIP is a list of consequence procedures. This list provides staff with consistent responses to challenging behavior. Having an outline of procedures decreases the opportunity for accidental reinforcement of challenging behaviors. A well written BIP will ensure your child’s success in developing adaptive alternatives to any challenging behavior.

How do these documents relate to the IEP process?

Functional Behavioral Assessments and Behavior Intervention Plans are both legal documents and are individualized for each child. Frequently, when an FBA and BIP are completed, the team will also develop an IEP goal area that focuses on behavior. A behavior goal area ensures the teaching of replacement behaviors, the use of data collection systems, and progress monitoring.

If you feel that your child’s behavior impacts their progress in school, you may want to request a Functional Behavioral Assessment to gain more information about the reasons why those behaviors are happening in the first place.

By Dana Howell

Board Certified Behavioral Analyst

Easterseals Massachusetts

ABA Services | Rehablitation Services Department