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5 Things to Know About Functional Behavior Assessment

Learn about functional behavior assessment from Walden’s applied behavior analysis expert, Dr. Steve Little.

Behavior analysis is a field of study focused on how individual behavior interacts with environmental events. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a branch of this discipline centered on the scientific principles and procedures used to improve socially significant behavior to a meaningful degree.1 It is an evidenced-based approach that’s proven effective in treating both adults and children, especially those who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Functional behavior assessment is an ABA method designed to assist healthcare practitioners in identifying and targeting specific behaviors, their purpose, and how they interfere with an individual’s progress.

So, what are some important aspects of functional behavior assessment (FBA) and how it’s used within the applied behavior analysis sphere? Below, we outline five interesting aspects of FBA, as shared by Dr. Steve Little, academic coordinator for Walden’s MS in Psychology program who led the development of the Applied Behavior Analysis specialization.

5 Things to Know About Functional Behavior Assessment

A functional behavior assessment is given after diagnosis and before treatment.

According to Dr. Little, “It’s vital to identify the function of behavior before anything else.” And though an initial diagnosis places behavior into a specific category, it does not pinpoint the function of the behavior. That’s why an FBA is carried out following diagnosis, as it helps to discern the reason behind why certain—often inappropriate—behaviors occur. The findings of the assessment then allow for the most accurate and effective treatment to be identified and implemented.

Repetitive behaviors do not occur randomly.

When discussing the foundation of FBA, Dr. Little emphasizes, “There is a reason for everything that we do. If it didn’t serve a purpose for us, we wouldn’t continue to do it.” Repetitious behavior, including behavior that is problematic, has a motive. Understanding that behavior is motivated—and working to identify that motivation—is core to FBA as well as applied behavior analysis.

The ABC Chart is often used in a functional assessment.

Short for antecedent-behavior-consequence, the ABC Chart is a direct observational tool used to gather information about the activities or events that are taking place in an individual’s environment.2 By using this method, the event preceding a problem behavior is identified, and then that behavior and the ensuing consequence are observed. This approach not only helps to recognize patterns more easily, but it’s also more reliable and less subjective than informant methods—like interviews and questionnaires—that depend on an individual’s memory and perceptions alone.3

A board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) is responsible for administering an FBA.

Professionals who have reached this level of certification have earned their master’s degree and/or doctoral degree. Though they don’t engage in as much one-on-one work with clientele, they are responsible for designing and monitoring programs, training staff, and supervising the treatment process. Conducting assessments is also the responsibility of a BCBA, including the ongoing administration of functional behavior assessments.

Functional behavior assessments are regularly conducted to monitor improvement.

“One of the hallmarks of behavior analysis is continuous assessment,” says Dr. Little. This is done to measure results and note improvement, which wouldn’t be possible without periodic assessment. By tracking the progress of an individual’s behavior, treatment can be modified as needed to further help reduce challenging behaviors.

Align Your Career in Psychology With Your Interests and Goals When You Earn Your Advanced Degree at Walden

If you’re looking to further your career and expand your credentials, consider earning your master’s in psychology from Walden. Online education makes it more convenient than ever to gain the experience and knowledge you need to stand out and excel in your field. At Walden—an accredited university—you can earn your degree in psychology from wherever you have internet access. Walden’s online MS in Psychology program with a specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis gives you the power to become the psychology professional organizations turn to for leadership and insight, while offering you the flexibility to take classes at whatever time of day works best for you. Continue to work full time while positioning yourself to impact the field of psychology and behavior analysis with Walden’s psychology master’s program.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Psychology program with a specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis, as well as a suite of other psychology and counseling programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.

The MS in Psychology program’s Applied Behavior Analysis specialization has been designed to offer acceptable graduate coursework in behavior analysis (Verified Course Sequence as approved by the Association for Behavior Analysis International and accepted by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board) and prepare students to sit for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (BCBA®) exam, which is administered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board® (BACB®). Walden University does not offer the fieldwork experience required for eligibility to sit for the BCBA exam. Walden enrollment specialists can provide information relating to national certification exams; however, it remains the individual student’s responsibility to understand, evaluate, and comply with all requirements relating to national certification exams for the state in which he or she intends to practice. Walden makes no representations or guarantee that completion of Walden coursework or programs will permit an individual to obtain national certification. For more information on applying for certification from BACB®, visit


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,