School Behavior

Functional Behavior Assessment: The Solution to Misbehavior at School

Does your child with ADHD routinely misbehave at school? Request a Functional Behavior Assessment to help identify the roots, reasons, and triggers. This will allow school administrators to create a Behavior Intervention Plan that offers effective interventions to augment your child’s IEP.

Functional Behavior Assessment

Does your child’s school have your phone number on speed dial due to frequent classroom misbehavior? Until children with ADHD receive proper medical treatment and academic supports, it’s not unusual to encounter inappropriate behavior at school. That said, parents and teachers should understand why the misbehavior occurs and ask each other what can be done to prevent it in the future.

The answer to that question may be simple, but, occasionally, it requires the teacher, parent, and school to dig deep. The misbehavior may be a cry for help because the child lacks the skills needed to perform the required task. Or his brain immaturity and insufficient ADHD treatment make it difficult for him to control his emotions.

Solve the ADHD Behavior Riddle with a Functional Behavior Assessment

When school administrators can’t figure out the trigger for inappropriate behavior, a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) will help. The aims of these tools are to identify the source of the behavior and to quickly intervene, so the behavior doesn’t get in the way of academic success. Most behavior challenges are not complicated, so abbreviated forms of FBA and BIP guidelines are sometimes used.

What is a Functional Behavior Assessment?

An FBA collects information to identify the reasons for a behavior. The assessment identifies the inappropriate behavior, the reasons the child may be engaging in it, and situations that trigger it. An FBA gathers information in the following areas:

  • Antecedent. What happened recently (or in the near past) before the behavior that may have triggered it? [Medication has worn off, dose is too low, forgot or refused to take meds, undiagnosed learning problems, breaking up with a girlfriend?]
  • Behavior. What is the specific, observable behavior of concern? [Daydreaming, being a class clown, talking too much, blurting out, interrupting, not completing homework, arguing with teacher, fighting.]
  • Consequence. What did the teacher do? How did the student respond? If the behavior is a characteristic of ADHD or executive function deficits, punishment will not change the behavior. Skills must be taught, and scaffolding must be put in place to shape the child’s behavior.
  • Context. Where and when did the behavior occur? [Which class period, what time of day, with which teachers? Meds may have worn off late in the day, or meds taken in the car on the way to school may not be effective until the end of first period.]
  • Contributing factors. What else is important? [Financial problems, parent-child conflict, death of a loved one, student working an extra job.]
  • Function of behavior. Is there a purpose? [When a student exhibits unacceptable behavior, it is assumed that the behavior was intentional to avoid something or to seek attention. Students with ADHD may just have an impulsive thought and act on it.]
  • Continuation. Is the behavior still a problem? If yes, a more in-depth assessment must be conducted.
  • Previous interventions. What has worked in the past? [Talk with parents and teachers from the previous year to determine what has worked.]

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Interventions for School Misbehavior

A Behavior Intervention Plan is based on the results of the FBA. It will offer effective interventions to address the behavior and help your child learn better ways to respond to situations that trigger it. The plan should always explain who is responsible for helping each aspect of the BIP: The student will ask for breaks from class; a counselor will teach student self-calming techniques; the student will be removed from a group after one warning; the student will be rewarded with computer time when the teacher notices him working well in a group.

Information from an FBA or BIP is often incorporated into the child’s IEP or 504 Plan. A BIP should not place the responsibility on the child to achieve the goal. If the student could perform the desired behavior, he would. The plan should state what the school will do to achieve the goals. Supports should help him demonstrate the desired behavior. “Johnny will turn in his homework daily” is not an acceptable goal in an IEP or 504 Plan. Goals should be specific and actionable: “Row captains will be appointed to check that students in their row turn in homework and write down assignments.”

Many parents aren’t aware that they can ask the school to conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment when their child acts out in school. Taking advantage of this option can save their child from failure and spare them lots of stress.


A Case Study with a Happy Ending

FBA procedures may be lengthy, but many times the assessment process can be shortened. For example, I consulted at one school where a student was failing an afternoon history class. He was disrespectful and defiant, muttering under his breath when the teacher corrected him. He was not completing his homework, and not passing all his tests. Failing the class would place him in jeopardy of being ineligible to play his beloved football.

The FBA included an academic rating scale completed by the teacher, review of school grades, achievement tests, IQ test results, and his IEP, interviews with key teachers, and completion of an executive function rating scale by both parents and his teachers.

Based on the data, key issues were identified: 1) The medication may have worn off by the afternoon, and perhaps the dosage was too low for peak effectiveness. 2) The student had difficulty getting started on homework, and often forgot his assignments. 3) The student had significant deficits in executive function skills. 4) He was strong in science and math; however, memorizing and summarizing  events in history were difficult for him.

We introduced four intervention strategies:

  1. The doctor adjusted his medication levels and he completed more assignments and made better test grades.
  2. We had the teacher use the phone app “Remind” to ensure that the teen and his parents were aware of homework assignments.
  3. The parents worked with their son to develop a homework routine, and monitored his work completion more closely. Homework was placed in his backpack at school and set near the outside of it at home, as a reminder to take it back to school.
  4. His parents and teachers were made aware of his need for external reminders due to his deficits in executive skills.

The good news is that within a couple of weeks the student’s behavior and grades improved significantly. He was completing his homework and his attitude in class was more positive. His parents were relieved, and he was thrilled that he was still playing football.

Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, M.S., is a former educator, school psychologist, and mental health counselor with over 40 years of experience. She is the author of Teaching Teens with ADD, ADHD & Executive Function Deficits. You can reach Chris at chris@chrisdendy.com.

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Updated on November 14, 2019

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