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 Article of Interest - FBA

Introduction to Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP)
by Tricia Luker, Bridges4Kids
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IDEA '97 formally recognizes for the first time that physical, mental or emotional disabilities can and do interfere with a child's ability to benefit from a free appropriate public education. IDEA '97 requires every IEP Team, at every IEP meeting, to review the child's behavior and determine whether it significantly impedes the child's learning or the learning of others. When IEP Teams identify behavior difficulties, the behavior challenges are evaluated (skills deficits, performance deficits and environmental modifications) and a needs-based behavior intervention plan is put into place to help the student, family and school respond to the challenging behaviors as they happen.


IDEA '97 uses two tools, the functional behavior assessment [FBA] and the behavior intervention plan [BIP] to promote positive supports to a child's behavior difficulties.


Functional Behavior Assessment

A functional behavior assessments is the primary tool used to identify and attempt to understand a child's behavior. The FBA has four goals:


1. to describe behavior

2. to predict when and where the behavior will occur

3. to identify possible reasons for why the child behaves the way she or he does

4. to develop intervention support strategies that conform to the IEP Team's best understanding of why the behavior is occurring


Data for the FBA come from several sources:

complete review of the child's entire school record and all available outside professional records


extensive, direct observation of the child in school (classroom and common areas), community and home settings

interviews with the child, the child's parents and siblings, teachers and other school personnel, community service providers and friends who know the child

completion and review of rating scales, observed behavior charts and related assessment tools


A formal FBA requires commitment from all participants. Although good FBA's may take months to complete, they are invaluable tools for helping to identify what happens before and after a challenging behavior occurs, allowing behavior team members to develop comprehensive, positive strategies to support the child in learning new behaviors.


What are Behavior Intervention Plans?

A behavior intervention plan [BIP] is a written, individualized support plan based on a functional assessment of the child's challenging behavior. BIPs include positive behavioral support to address identified academic and behavior concerns. A BIP is:


based on the FBA and guided by a reasoned understanding of why the behavior happens


directed toward skill building and environmental changes


comprehensive; involving multiple intervention components

assessed on its effectiveness -- not just the change in the targeted behavior, but on the broader quality of life issues such as maintenance across time and generalization across settings (Bambara & Knoster, 1995)

A BIP may teach a child how to replace banging her head on the table with raising her hand as the primary method of getting a teacher's attention. The plan may positively reinforce a child for working independently. The BIP might include specific, success-assured tasks that the child will do while learning to raise her hand and work independently. The BIP describes how its success will be evaluated, contains a regular review schedule and identifies those conditions that require immediate revision or modification.


The BIP is a active document which needs periodic review and revision.  A strong, well written BIP under IDEA '97 is vital to developing an IEP, but the BIP does not have to be part of the IEP to be effective.  In fact,
most schools and families prefer to separate the BIP from the IEP. An IEP can refer to a BIP, but a BIP standing alone can be changed without having a formal meeting of the whole IEP Team. Once in place the BIP should be evaluated as often as the child's targeted behavior is evaluated.

IEP Team Informal Behavior Intervention

Ideally, most behavior challenges will be identified early in a child's life or school career, and parents and teachers will already have a plan in place to address the behavior. IDEA '97 embraces the concept that most of the time behavior challenges can be addressed at the IEP level through carefully crafted goals and objectives. FBA's and BIP's are not required at this early stage in the process, but parents can, and in some cases should, ask for FBA's and BIP's if strategies implemented through the IEP goals and objectives section seem to be ineffective or lack school support and commitment.


IEP Team members should collect, share and review all available information describing the challenging behavior, the events occurring before and after the behavior, and data identifying the child's emotional and educational stressors.


IEP Team members are encouraged to press the envelope in exploring and developing strategies to enhance the child's ability to exercise greater self-control and self-determination. Positive behavior supports provided
at this level can be included within an IEP's goals and objectives.  Parents and schools should use all special education and related services that are available to help the child positively address and resolve the behavior difficulty. IDEA '97 contemplates that in most instances behavior difficulties identified at the IEP Team level will be resolved by the IEP Team through the use of positive intervention with the child.


Formal Behavior Intervention Under IDEA '97

IDEA '97 creates a second level of behavior intervention and review to be used when a child's behavior difficulties lead to potential suspension or expulsion. The law is explicit on those steps schools must take when suspending or expelling a child who has or is suspected of having disabilities. The formal process looks like this:

General Principles

IDEA '97 does not protect children with disabilities from punishment until a child has been suspended or removed from an educational placement for more than 10 school days.


Under IDEA '97, a suspension happens when the child is removed from the building, rather than removed from a class within the building. The test is whether the school is providing services required by the child's IEP, even though the child is not in the classroom.


Before 10 days have expired the school must give the parents written notice of their right to challenge any suspension or expulsion beyond the initial 10 days.


If the school moves to formally expel the child, the parents must receive notice of the right to challenge the expulsion if they believe it is due to behavior related to the child's disability.


If the parents challenge a suspension or expulsion the school must bring the IEP Team together to determine whether the behavior for which the child is being disciplined is related to his disability. IDEA '97 calls this process a "Manifestation IEP Team."


A school may only suspend or expel a child from school if the conduct is NOT a manifestation of (or significantly related to) the child's disability.


Manifestation Considerations

The IEP Team may determine whether a child's behavior was a manifestation of the child's disability only after the Team considers, in looking at the conduct leading to the disciplinary action, all relevant information

a thorough review of all past evaluations and testing results


all information provided by the parents and student


a thorough review the child's IEP, BIP and school environment

Manifestation Standards

The IEP Team must answer the following questions in order to decide whether a child's conduct was a manifestation of the child's disability:


Is the child's IEP APPROPRIATE?

Is the child's IEP being followed as written?

Are the child's placement, special education services, and supplementary aids APPROPRIATE?


Are the child's educational services and supplementary aids being provided as written in the IEP?

Is the child's BIP APPROPRIATE?

Are the behavior intervention strategies being applied CONSISTENTLY in accord with the child's IEP, BIP and placement?

If the team answers to any of the above questions is "no," then the child cannot be suspended or expelled for the conduct.


Disability-Related Conduct

If the IEP Team decides that the child's IEP, BIP and placement are appropriate and have been consistently provided as written in the plan, the Team then must decide whether the conduct in question is significantly
related to the child's disability. The Team must answer the following questions:


Did the child's disability IMPAIR his/her ability to UNDERSTAND the impact and consequences of the behavior subject to disciplinary action?


Did the child's disability IMPAIR his/her ability to CONTROL the behavior subject to disciplinary action?


If the Team answers either question "yes," then the school cannot expel the child.


"Unidentified" Students: Protected if School Had Knowledge

IDEA '97 also might protect children who have not been through the formal IEP/BIP process. Schools must provide the same manifestation IEP Team process to children they know or should have known had disabilities. In order to decide whether a school should have known a child subject to expulsion might have a disability, the following questions are asked:

Has the child's parent expressed concern in writing to the school suggesting the child has special needs or requires special services?


Has the child's behavior or performance shown or suggested the need for special education services?


Has the parent requested that the child be evaluated for special education services under IDEA '97?

Have any school personnel (teacher, counselor, social worker, administrator) expressed concern about the child's performance to local special education offices or administrators?


If the answer to any of these questions is "yes", the child's parents are entitled to the IDEA '97 procedural safeguards discussed in this article.

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