For Parents

Persistent and severe problem behavior of children with autism or developmental disabilities often leads to a highly restrictive lifestyle for families, which can negatively affect overall family functioning and parental mental health.

Understanding why the problem behavior is occurring, through a process called functional assessment, is an important first step towards an effective treatment for problem behavior. This process has been refined over 50 years of research to be efficient, safe, and sufficiently precise.

Causes of problems are complex; all the reasons as to why problem behavior is occurring are not identified in a functional assessment. Nevertheless, the situations that occasion the problem behavior and the consequences that maintain the problem behavior are identified during the functional assessment process. These motivating situations are then used to teach skills that produce these same consequences.

At treatment onset, problem behavior is initially replaced with a more efficient form of communication. This simple response is then shaped to be more developmentally appropriate and capable of being understood and acted upon by others. Skills are then taught relevant to tolerating delays and denials of the materials, activities, or actions of others that are often the target of the communications. Finally, important leisure, academic, or vocational skills are strengthened during treatment in the same situations that used to occasion problem behavior and relying on the same consequences that used to maintain problem  behavior.

Click here for a parent-friendly presentation outlining this process. Click here for an associated Powerpoint file.

Click here to see brief presentations developed by BCBA practitioners as they applied the process in clinics and in the home.

One way to identify a professional in your area capable of implementing this functional assessment process and skill-based treatment approach is to visit the Behavior Analysis Certification Board® website. By clicking on this particular page, you can enter your zip code to obtain a list of practicing Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) in your area.

You also may be able to identify an agency or program in your area that specializes in Applied Behavior Analysis, which is the applied science from which this process was developed, by visiting this resource guide pulled together by Autism Speaks®. Select your state and scroll down to the intervention category. There you will find programs specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis.

If the BCBA working with your family or in your child’s school is not familiar with this practical functional assessment and treatment process, encourage them to learn more by following the steps on this page.