Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


43rd Annual Convention; Denver, CO; 2017

Event Details

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Symposium #50
CE Offered: BACB — 
Practical and Ethical Issues in Current Functional Analysis Methodology: Potential Solutions
Saturday, May 27, 2017
11:00 AM–11:50 AM
Convention Center Mile High Ballroom 2C
Area: PRA/PCH; Domain: Translational
Chair: Robert K. Ross (Beacon ABA Services)
Discussant: Robert K. Ross (Beacon ABA Services)
CE Instructor: Robert K. Ross, Ed.D.

Conclusions derived from current functional assessment practices heavily rely on indirect methods for gathering data (e.g. FAST, MAS). When a function is experimentally tested, current practices pose ethical, practical and theoretical concerns. Both approaches are problematic in that indirect data produces inaccurate and imprecise data, and experimental methods are typically not driven by a hypothesis, directly reinforce problematic behaviors, and do not involve simultaneous establishment of appropriate alternative behaviors. The first presentation will focus on a comparison between two indirect and one direct data collection method to generate hypothesis regarding function that is more accurate and efficient. The second will propose alternative experimental methods to test a subset of hypothesized functions and involve teaching alternative responses and do not reinforce problematic behaviors. The symposium will conclude with an argument to support (1) direct observation of consequences be used in place of indirect data to develop hypothesis and (2) use of use of alternative experimental methods such a free-operant and trial-based functional analysis procedures. The proposed methodology provides a more ethical, conceptually systematic, and practical assessment of function.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): Direct Assessment, Ethics, Functional Assessment

Direct Observation of Consequences Toll for Raising Hypothesis About Function of Problematic Behaviors

(Applied Research)
PAULO GUILHARDI (Beacon ABA Services), Sue A. Rapoza-Houle Rapoza (Beacon ABA Services), Jennifer Smith (Beacon ABA Services), Robert K. Ross (Beacon ABA Services)

Indirect data obtained through interviews such as the Functional Analysis Screening Tool (FAST) and Motivational Assessment Scale (MAS) are commonly used to develop hypothesis regarding function of problematic behavior despite the known inaccuracies produced by indirect data. While researchers use the FAST and MAS as a simple way to raise hypothesis, such use can be problematic if (1) the instrument fails to include the actual function as part of the hypothesis (miss) and (2) does not filter enough possibilities (false alarms). Those outcomes may mislead or waste assessors’ and clients’ time and efforts. The current research aimed to compare the FAST and MAS to a direct observation of consequences that follow problematic behaviors (Beacon Consequence Analysis Form - BCAF). Data from twelve children whose function of problematic behaviors were confirmed by a trial-based or free-operant functional analysis were used in this study. A comparison of the instruments hypothesis and confirmed function was conducted and rates of hits, correct rejection, misses, and false alarms calculated. The results supported the use of the BCAF which had the highest rates of hits (100%) and correct rejections (93.3%) and lowest rates of misses (0%) and false alarms (6.7%) to raise hypothesis regarding potential function.


Experimental Methods for Assessing Function Without Direct Reinforcement of Problematic Behaviors

(Applied Research)
JENNIFER SMITH (Beacon ABA Services), Paulo Guilhardi (Beacon ABA Services), Robert K. Ross (Beacon ABA Services)

Skinner defined functional analysis as the identification contingencies of reinforcement responsible for the acquisition of maintenance of responses. Iwata et al (1994) introduced a procedure that involved direct manipulations of the antecedent and consequences in order to experimentally determine the function of the problem behavior. While its approach was and has been now widely accepted some ethical, practical and theoretical concerns may be raised. For example, the appropriateness of its wide use may be questionable in some situations due to its directly reinforcing specific topographies of problematic behavior, and it assumes an invariable relationship between antecedent conditions and the consequences maintaining problematic behavior (e.g., problematic behaviors occurring under demand conditions are always reinforced by escape) which is not always the case. For example, a demand condition may function as a discriminative stimulus that attention (follow through with the demand) will be delivered. The present study attempts to identify a trial-based and free-operant alternative to conducting a functional analysis that involves teaching functional communication responses rather than reinforcing problematic behaviors. This method will be described and examples concerning functional analysis of multiple topographies such as prompt dependency, aggressions, and tantrums will be reviewed.




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