Grey Matters August 11, 2023

Grey Matters: Understanding Behaviour

Notes from the Support Approach Team



Grey Matters: Understanding Behaviour

What are Functional Behaviour Assessments?

Some individuals may engage in self-injury, physical aggression, or property damage that can affect their quality of life. Have you ever wondered why some individuals engage in these behaviours? Functional Behaviour Assessments (FBAs) include both tools and processes to help teams to understand and address the behaviour using positive approaches. FBAs help to figure out what is behind the challenging behaviour. It is always run by a trained professional that has experience in the process.

Every behaviour serves a function.

These functions can be broken up into four categories(Cooper et al., 2020).:

  • Tangible
  • Escape
  • Attention
  • Automatic or Sensory

Tangible functions involve an individual engaging in a behaviour due to wanting to access an item. Escape functions can occur when an individual will engage in a behaviour to avoid a task or something unpleasant. Attention functions involve engaging in a behaviour to gain  from another person.  Automatic or sensory functions involve an individual engaging in a behaviour due to finding that behaviour/sensory stimulation enjoyable.

General steps of FBAs include:

  • Collect information from the team.
    • The trained professional will gather information about the behaviour from stakeholders that work directly with the individual. Gathering information can include interview or
  • Observe the individual in their environment.
    • With observations, the trained professional can look for any patterns of the behaviour when it occurs.
  • Form a hypothesis.
    • Based on patterns of behaviour and from the information collected from the team, the trained professional will develop a hypothesis that could possibly be tested.
  • Can the hypothesis be tested?
    • If able to test the hypothesis, the trained professional will set up a scenario to observe if precursor behaviours arise from a given scenario. Note that safety and context are always considered before a trained professional and their team determines that a scenario can be assessed.
  • Develop positive support strategies.
    • Once there is understanding why the behaviour is occurring, a plan along with positive strategies can be implemented.

Overall, FBAs are helpful when challenging behaviour impacts an individual’s daily living, skill development, learning, relationships, or well-being. The FBA process allows to help understand the function of the behaviour; therefore, the team will have more insight into the reasons that the individual is engaging in the behaviour to help then provide appropriate supports.

—Jessica Bist, M.Sc., Support Approach Team

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2020). Applied behavior analysis (3rd ed.). Pearson.