Behav Interv 2015 Feb;30(1):1-35
The New England Center for Children, Southborough, MA 01772, USA ; Western New England University, Springfield, MA 01119, USA.
Severe problem behavior (e.g., self-injury and aggression) remains among the most serious challenges for the habilitation of persons with intellectual disabilities and is a significant obstacle to community integration. The current standard of behavior analytic treatment for problem behavior in this population consists of a functional assessment and treatment model. Within that model, the first step is to assess the behavior-environment relations that give rise to and maintain problem behavior, a functional behavioral assessment. Conventional methods of assessing behavioral function include indirect, descriptive, and experimental assessments of problem behavior. Clinical investigators have produced a rich literature demonstrating the relative effectiveness for each method, but in clinical practice, each can produce ambiguous or difficult-to-interpret outcomes that may impede treatment development. This paper outlines potential sources of variability in assessment outcomes and then reviews the evidence on strategies for avoiding ambiguous outcomes and/or clarifying initially ambiguous results. The end result for each assessment method is a set of best practice guidelines, given the available evidence, for conducting the initial assessment.