Functional assessment of problem behavior: dispelling myths, overcoming implementation obstacles, and developing new lore

Behav Anal Pract. Summer 2012;5(1):54-72. doi: 10.1007/BF03391818.


Hundreds of studies have shown the efficacy of treatments for problem behavior based on an understanding of its function. Assertions regarding the legitimacy of different types of functional assessment vary substantially across published articles, and best practices regarding the functional assessment process are sometimes difficult to cull from the empirical literature or from published discussions of the behavioral assessment process. A number of myths regarding the functional assessment process, which appear to be pervasive within different behavior-analytic research and practice communities, will be reviewed in the context of an attempt to develop new lore regarding the functional assessment process. Frequently described obstacles to implementing a critical aspect of the functional assessment process, the functional analysis, will be reviewed in the context of solutions for overcoming them. Finally, the aspects of the functional assessment process that should be exported to others versus those features that should remain the sole technological property of behavior analysts will be discussed.

Keywords: autism; descriptive assessment; functional analysis; functional assessment; indirect assessment; intellectual disabilities; open-ended interviews; problem behavior.