Reducing ambiguity in the functional assessment of problem behavior

Griffin W. Rooker, Iser G. Deleon, Carrie S W Borrero, Michelle A. Frank-Crawford, Eileen M. Roscoe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-35
Number of pages35
JournalBehavioral Interventions
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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