I completed a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) recently on 9-year-old boy I’ll call Sam. His mother decided to home school Sam because she was worried that the public school her son attended might call the police if his behaviors continued to escalate.
Sam was diagnosed with high-functioning autism just after the age of three. He was included in general education classes since his IQ was in the normal range. Sam spoke in full sentences and could reportedly read at grade level. Sam’s outbursts, however, were very disturbing to the teachers and other students. While at school, Sam was sent to the principal’s office on multiple occasions and was suspended once when he knocked over a desk.
While an FBA is conducted to analyze the function of problem behaviors, I believe that a big part of an FBA should be dedicated to examining the child’s language and academic skills. In Sam’s case, his language deficits were very apparent to me as I completed a VB-MAPP assessment, even though he was a puzzle to school district personnel.
Sam displayed defective mands throughout the assessment since almost all of his requests revolved around escaping work. He asked his mom, “Can we be done?” and “Is it almost time for a break?” 30 times during a 20-minute work session. During the full day evaluation, Sam also only asked a few general questions starting with words such as “what,” “can” and “does.” I didn’t hear any complex mands for information with “why,” “how,” or “which” questions.
While Sam’s tacts were relatively strong, things fell apart for Sam when he was asked questions and needed to respond intraverbally. When I asked Sam to tell me some animals, foods, colors, and pieces of clothing or asked him simple “what” and “where” type questions, he was fairly accurate. However, when I asked him to tell me some things that are usually red, he looked around the room (looking for something to tact). I then asked him to close his eyes and tell me some things that are usually red and he demonstrated problem behavior. He screamed “Don’t tell me to close my eyes!” Similar problem behaviors were seen when how and why questions were asked.
The VB-MAPP assessment showed major skill deficits in manding for information and in the intraverbal repertoires. Sam’s problem behavior was primarily related to a history of escape from work involving high intraverbal demands. A few of the interventions recommended included the introduction of a token economy system, teaching Sam how to mand for information and using tact to intraverbal transfers to teach him to more effectively answer complex “wh” questions. An SRA program called Language for Thinking as well as a BCBA for six hours per month to oversee programming were also recommended and implemented.
If a student is displaying problem behaviors that are disruptive to his learning or the learning of others, the “problem behavior” box should be checked off on one of the first pages of the IEP. If this box is checked, a FBA needs to be conducted, preferably by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). A Behavior Intervention Plan should also be written and, once staff are trained on the plan (by the person who wrote it), it should be followed closely. Ongoing analysis and support for staff is also needed.
I believe that assessing the verbal and non-verbal operants as well as all academic areas should be a part of every FBA. Professionals who conduct FBA’s, as well as other professionals and parents who are working with students with significant problem behaviors need to understand the difference between mands, tacts, and intraverbals and the importance of assessing the verbal and non-verbal operants. A focus on the skill strengths and deficits (and not just on the problem behavior) will help each student with autism reach their full potential.
I go over this and so much more in my Autism ABA Help Course, so take a look and see if it could be right for you!