A comparison of functional behavior assessment methodologies with young children: Descriptive methods and functional analysis

Peter Alter, Maureen A. Conroy, G. Rich Mancil, Todd Haydon

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The use of functional behavior assessment (FBA) to guide the development of behavior intervention plans continues to increase since they were first mandated in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997, 20 U.S.C. Section 1400 et seq, 1997). A variety of indirect and direct instruments have been developed to facilitate this process. Although many researchers believe that a full functional analysis is necessary to identify the function of a behavior, more rapid and efficient FBA procedures are more commonly used. This investigation examined the correspondence between indirect and direct FBA procedures. Specifically, the results of three descriptive assessments and a functional analysis for four young children at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders were compared. Separation of all descriptive and experimental results was maintained and the assessment order was counterbalanced. Results of the descriptive assessments had low consistency with each other, and the results of two indirect FBA assessments (the Functional Assessment Interview and Motivation Assessment Scale) had low agreement with the results of functional analyses. On the other hand, the direct assessment procedure (ABC assessment) agreed with the results of functional analyses for all participants. These results support the use of direct observations and indicate that indirect measures should be used with caution as stand-alone assessments of the function of challenging behaviors.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalJournal of Behavior Education
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008


  • Functional behavior assessment
  • Descriptive assessments
  • Functional analysis
  • Young children
  • Emotional and behavioral disorders


  • Education

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