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Functional Behavioral Assessment for Children with Autism

September 13, 2023

When children with autism act out and misbehave at home or in school, it can be due to a number of things going on in their lives, but it can also be due to the fact they have ASD and therefore struggle to express themselves.

Autism Functional Behavioral Assessment for Children

Sometimes a child with autism is unable to explain what is wrong because he/she is unable to clearly articulate him/herself. This is where a functional behavioral assessment might offer caregivers the ability to get to the bottom of why they are acting out. But what is a functional behavioral assessment and how does the process work? Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will have an understanding.

What is functional behavioral assessment?

A functional behavioral assessment is used to figure out why a child may be acting in a certain way and uses specific methods to find out what reasoning is behind behavior challenges. The idea is that, if you can gain an understanding of what is causing behavioral changes in a child, then you can find ways to counteract the behavior.

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A school team works on the functional behavioral assessment and the process is usually led by someone who is trained in understanding behaviors; for example, a school psychologist or a specific behavior specialist. The team tends to be made up of teachers, school administrators, and professionals who are in direct contact with the child.

This team works together during the whole process of the assessment to make sure they gain the best understanding of what the child is doing. The team also works with the family and the child to gather information when creating the plan, and after the plan has been designed, to continue collecting information for plan adaptation.

Should my child with autism have a functional behavioral assessment?

Knowing exactly when you should consider a functional behavioural assessment is not easy to gauge. The best time to act is when you see the child is starting to act out or is behaving in a different way to usual, as this will then allow you to get an understanding of what is causing these issues and allow you to try and combat them.
You need to think about whether the child’s behavior is impacting others in his/her education setting and whether it’s impacting his/her own learning, too. You can do this with learning support by having the child monitored during lessons to see if the behavior is just a blip or something more consistent.

In general, functional behavioral assessments are used to assess the behavior of students who might be moved into special education. The process evaluates these students and confirms whether they should be moved into a different form of education, as well as whether their behavior is getting in the way of their learning. The main reason for this assessment is to ensure children are not lost to the system or potentially kicked out of school due to challenging behavior.

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The functional behavioral assessment process

For a functional behavioral assessment, the team in place will gather information and use it to set up a behavioral plan. Below, you can see the steps followed in a typical assessment.

1. Understand the behavior

The assessment begins by understanding the definition of the child’s behavior. This means the team needs to have a specific understanding of what the child has been doing. The caregiver or teacher calling for the assessment needs to be specific in their description of the behavior so it is easy to understand for example, instead of just saying that the child is “disrupting the class or refusing to work” they would say “the child tears up paperwork and refuses to answer when spoken to by the teacher”.

2. Collect information and analyse it

After they have understood the behavior, the team collects the information. They could look at the child’s records at school, talk to the staff that are in contact with him/her, and even test and interview the student. The end goal at this stage is to find out when and where the behavior is happening, where it’s not happening, how often the behavior occurs, who is around the child when it happens, and what tends to happen immediately before and after the behavior occurs.

Most of the time the child can provide this sort of information if spoken to about it as only the child will know how he/she felt at the time, and trying to keep track of his/her emotions can help the team understand the behaviors further. If you are unable to get the information from the child, then talking to his/her classmates and observing them can also help to collect the information required.

3. Discover the reasons for the behavior

Once the information has been gathered the team can then make their best guess at what is causing the behavior and acting out from the child. It is then down to the team to find out what the student could be getting from acting out like this and using this behavior. It could be that he/she is acting out to avoid something or trying to escape something that he/she is scared or worried about.

4. Design a plan

After discovering the reasons for the behavior, the team tries to see if its estimates are right. The school’s psychologist or behavioural specialist would take the lead in this part and would start by making some changes at school for the child to see if the child’s behavior changes. They do this with the school, creating what is called a behavioral intervention plan (BIP) which will teach and reward the child if he/she displays positive behaviors when reacting to the changes.

If you take the earlier example of “the child that would not listen to the teacher or would tear up work”, you can apply this plan by giving him/her a chance to answer questions out loud instead of writing responses down or only show working on some worksheets instead of all. Then allow the school to make changes to the plan as they look to counteract the behavioral issues so the child can get the education they deserve.

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This completes the functional behavioral assessment process. Remember, once the plan has been started, it can be evolved as time goes on to ensure any behavioral issues are quashed and the child can study without hindrance.


Functional behavioral assessment helps schools understand the behavior of children who are acting out and enables professionals to come up with a BIP to make sure all children can get an education. The BIP is tailored to manage the behavior of each individual child.

As a parent, you can help your child outside of the classroom by observing him/her at home, keeping a frustration log, and taking note of changes to your child’s behavior. If you have a BIP already in place, why not take a look at how you can implement some of the plan’s main strategies at home?

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