Description: An evaluation of behavior in terms of its antecedents (events that occur immediately before a behavior and therefore may set the occasion for it) and consequences (events that immediately follow the behavior and thus may encourage or discourage the individual from repeating the behavior in the future). A functional assessment involves objective assessment of antecedents, behaviors, and consequences as they occur naturally during an individual’s daily routine. A functional analysis includes the added step of systematically varying the antecedents to and consequences of the behavior. For example, an individual may behave aggressively at school but only at certain times. A functional assessment is conducted by observing the individual over a few days.
For example, the assessment may indicate that that the individual becomes aggressive only in the presence of a certain instructor when that instructor makes academic demands on the individual. It also may indicate that, whenever the individual aggresses, this instructor removes the demand. A functional analysis consists of systematically presenting these antecedents and consequences in one condition, presenting other antecedents and consequences in other conditions, and comparing the rate of aggression across conditions. The condition in which the rate of the behavior is highest may indicate what types of antecedents and consequences maintain the behavior.
Research Summary: Studies on across a wide range of populations (including autism), behaviors, and settings indicate that functional assessment/analysis is an effective tool for identifying antecedents and consequences that maintain behaviors.
Recommendations: Functional assessment/analysis is a well-established behavioral assessment tool in applied behavior analysis for individuals with autism.
Systematic reviews of scientific studies:
Didden, R., Korzilius, H., & Van Oorsouw, W. (2006). Behavioral treatment of challenging behaviors in individuals with mild mental retardation: Meta-analysis of single-subject research. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 111, 290-298.
Hanley, G. P., Iwata, B. A., & McCord, B.E. (2003). Functional analysis of problem behavior: A review. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 36, 147-185.
Rapp, J., & Vollmer, T. R. (2005). Stereotypy I: A review of behavioral assessment and treatment. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 26, 527-547.
For additional information:
Iwata, B. A., & Worsdell, A.S. (2005). Implications of functional analysis methodology for the design of intervention programs. Exceptionality, 13, 25-34.