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(July 9, 2013)

It has been clear for some time now that if we know why a child is misbehaving (for example, to get out of difficult schoolwork) and a plan is designed based on this information (for example, teaching the child how to ask for help) the results frequently can lead to significant improvements in behavior.  Although a variety of techniques for finding this information exist, one approach approved by many professionals is called a “functional analysis” because its goal is to assess the “function” or reason why the person is acting out. Unfortunately, a functional analysis can often be time consuming and difficult for school teachers or parents to carry out. In addition, the results of the analysis are not always clear enough to determine just why the child is misbehaving.

image of Dr. Mandy Rispoli

In a study published in the July 2013 issue of the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, a team of researchers from Texas A&M University’s College of Education and Center on Disability and Development (Mandy Rispoli, Heather Davis, Fara Goodwyn and Síglia Camargo) identified two students who were extremely disruptive in their classrooms and set out to assess why. They compared the more formal functional analysis, which can be a problem to conduct in school, with a pared down version (called “trial-based functional analysis”). This briefer version can be more easily carried out during regular academic activities, therefore making it less intrusive to typical classroom routines. The researchers found that the briefer assessment produced information that was clearer as to why the students were misbehaving.


First author Mandy Rispoli shared that, “Finding efficient and effective means of assessing problem behavior in classroom settings continues to be a challenge for special education teachers. In this study we sought to evaluate a practical method for allowing teachers to conduct functional analyses of challenging behavior within public school classrooms. Our results suggest that a trial-based functional analysis of problem behavior was effective in determining behavioral function for study participants and was successfully implemented by public school teachers.”



About the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions

The Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions is the premier journal publishing research-based strategies for improving the lives of persons with severe behavior challenges. These approaches are used in homes, communities and in schools throughout the world. Regular features include empirical research; discussion, literature reviews, and conceptual papers; and programs, practices, and innovations. It is available electronically on SAGE Journals Online.