Functional Assessment Checklist

What is person-centered planning and how does it relate to functional assessment?

Teams who are supporting students who engage in moderate to severe levels of problem behavior should start the functional assessment process by conducting a person-centered plan. Person-centered planning (PCP) is an ongoing problem-solving process that is used by a group of people who are interested in helping a student build a lifestyle based upon his or her preferences, needs, and choices. The purpose of a PCP is to create a context in which a student can create a vision for how he or she wants to live and then to brainstorm, strategize, and plan to make that vision a reality. Person-centered planning builds on a student's natural skills, talents, and gifts in order to create a more satisfying life for the individual and increase community participation.

Person-centered planning is often implemented early in the functional assessment since it provides important quality of life information. Another reason implementing person-centered planning first is advantageous is because increasing a student's quality of life can have an impact on problem behavior. When positive lifestyle changes are implemented, the student's problem behavior may decrease, making more comprehensive positive behavior support plans unnecessary. On the other hand, significant lifestyle changes may be more complex and require some time to complete. A PBS plan may be necessary while larger lifestyle interventions are implemented.

There are many types of PCP processes. Some of the more familiar planning strategies include the Essential Lifestyle Plan, Personal Futures Planning, Group Action Planning, Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope, and McGill Action Planning Summary. These strategies can be used at any point in an individual's life, including important life transitions and during times of stress. Although initially developed to support individuals with disabilities, PCP processes can lead to valuable outcomes for persons with a wide variety of abilities and can be a useful tool for individuals of all ages. Some families have even used person-centered planning to build their lifestyle goals together.

Person-centered Planning Resources: 

Anderson, C. M., Bahl, A. B., & Kincaid, D. (1999). A person-centered approach to
providing support to an adolescent with a history of parental abuse. In J. Scotti & L.
Meyer (Eds.), Behavioral intervention: Principles, models and practices (pp. 385-396).
Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
Butterworth, J., Steere, D. E., & Whitney-Thomas, J. (1997). Using person-centered
planning to address personal quality of life. In R. Schalock, (Ed.), Quality of life:
Application to persons with disabilities II (pp. 5-23).
Flannery, K. B., Newton, S., Horner, R. H., Slovic, R., Blumberg, R., & Ard, W. R.
(2000). The impact of person centered planning on the content and organization of
individual supports. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 23(2), 123-137.
Holburn S., & Vietze, P. M. (Eds.). Person-centered planning: Research, practice, and
future directions. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
Mount, B. (1987). Personal futures planning: Finding directions for change. (Doctoral
dissertation, University of Georgia). Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Dissertation Information
Mount, B. & Zwernik, K. (1989). It's never too early, it's never too late: A booklet
about personal futures planning. St. Paul, MN: Metropolitan Council.
O'Brien, J. (1987). A guide to lifestyle planning: Using the Activities catalog to
integrate services and natural support systems. In B. Wilcox & G. T. Bellamy (Eds.),
The activities catalog: An alternative curriculum design for youth and adults with
severe disabilities (pp. 104-110). Baltimore: Brookes.
Pearpoint, J., O'Brien, J., & Forest, M. (1995). PATH: A workbook for Planning
Positive Possible Futures and Planning Alternatives Tomorrows with Hope for schools,
organizations, businesses, families. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Inclusion Press.
Turnbull, A. P., Blue-Banning, M. J., Logan Anderson, E., Turnbull, H. R., Seaton, K.
A., & Dinas, P. A. (1996). Enhancing self-determination through group action planning:
A holistic emphasis. In D. Sands & M. Wehmeyer (Eds.), Self-determination across the
life span: Independence and choice for people with disabilities (pp. 237-256).
Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
Turnbull, A. P., & Turnbull, H. R. (1996). Group action planning as a strategy for
providing comprehensive family support. In L. Kern-Koegel, R. Koegel, & G. Dunlap
(Eds.), Positive Behavioral Support: Including people with difficult behavior in the
community (pp. 99-114). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
Vandercook, T., York, J., & Forest, M. (1989). The McGill Action Planning System
(MAPS): A strategy for building the future. Journal of the Association for Persons with
Severe Handicaps, 14, 205-215.

Person-centered Planning Resources: 

An Overview of Essential Life Style Planning

A Resource List on Person-Centered Planning

Person-Centered Planning Practice Guideline

What are the steps needed to complete a functional assessment? 

The functional assessment is not completed exactly the same way each time. Each student is unique and may require different tools and measurement strategies depending upon the level of severity of the problem behavior, the environmental setting, and physiological or mental health issues. However, the process for completing a functional assessment is essentially the same.

Four major steps involved in completing a functional assessment include:

  • collecting functional assessment information,
  • identifying the hypothesis or hypotheses maintaining problem behavior,
  • confirming that the hypothesis or hypotheses are correct, and
  • creating a written summary of functional assessment findings.


How can I find functional assessment tools that are unique to my student? 

There are a number of different tools used to assess social skills, physiological setting events, quality of life, and other important areas of a student's life that can be used in a functional assessment. The following list is an example of the types of materials that are available.

Identifying the Function of Behavior 

Durand, V. M. (1990). Severe behavior problems: A functional communication training 
approach. New York: Guilford Press.
Durand, V. M., & Crimmins, D. B. (1992). The Motivation Assessment Scale (MAS) 
Administration Guide. Topeka KS: Monaco & Associates.

Quality of Life 

Baker, D. J., Sappington, G., Ard, W. R., Kelsch, R., & Horner, R. H. (1999). Self-
determination scale. Eugene, OR: Specialized Training Program, College of Education.
Keith, K. D., & Schalock, R. L. (1995). Quality of student life questionnaire. 
Worthington, OH: IDS Publishing Corporation.
Schalock, R. (Ed.). (1996). Quality of life: Vol. I. Conceptualization and measurement. 
Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Retardation.
Schalock, R. L. & Keith, K. D. (1993). Quality of life questionnaire. Worthington, OH: 
IDS Publishing Corporation.

Setting Events 

Gardner, W. I., Cole, C. L., Davidson, D. P., & Karan, O. C. (1986). Reducing 
aggression in individuals with developmental disabilities: An expanded stimulus 
control, assessment, and intervention model. Education and Training of the Mentally 
Retarded, 21, 7-21. 

Social Skills & Activity Patters 

Gresham, F. M., & Elliott, S. N. (1990). Social skills rating system. Circle Pines, MN: 
American Guidance Service.
Kennedy, C. H., Horner, R. H., & Newton, J. S. (1990). The social networks and 
activity patterns of adults with severe disabilities: A correlational analysis. Journal of 
the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 15, 86-90. 
Kennedy, C. H., Horner, R. H., Newton, J. S., & Kanda, E. (1990). Measuring the 
activity patterns of adults with severe disabilities using the resident lifestyle inventory. 
Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 15, 79-85. 

Medical Resources 




National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine (NIH)

(Pub Med)

When is a functional assessment complete? 

A functional assessment is complete when the team has accomplished the following steps:

  1. There is a clear description of the problem behavior.
  2. Information about the occurrence and nonoccurrence of problem behavior has been documented.
  3. The consequences that maintain the student's problem behavior are identified.
  4. The team has developed one or more hypotheses regarding the function maintaining problem behavior.
  5. Direct observation data have been collected confirming the function maintaining the problem behavior (O'Neill et al., 1997).

The functional assessment is complete when the team feels confident in the hypotheses and the five steps are accomplished.