Functional Assessment Direct Observation Tool

What is the Functional Assessment Direct Observation Tool?

The Functional Assessment Observation Tool is an adaptation of the form developed by O'Neill and his colleagues (1997) and combines elements of the scatter plot and ABC Chart. This form allows you to record the behavior(s), setting events, antecedents, and consequences observed during a session. This observation form allows you to keep track of possible functions as well as actual consequences observed during the session.

Like the scatter plot, you decide how long the intervals are depending upon how long your session is and the frequency of the behaviors. Each behavior may be counted and listed on the form during the time in which it occurs. If a student engages in a burst of behaviors that tend to occur together, refer to all of the behaviors as one "event." For instance, the functional assessment observation tool example documents that from 9:00-10:00 there were five events that occurred. During event "2," George engaged in humming, telling jokes, and throwing books.

Why is it important to use direct observation during functional assessment?

Direct observation methods like the Functional Observation Assessment Tool, the scatter plot, and the ABC Chart help you validate information gathered using indirect assessment and evaluate the team's hypothesis about the function maintaining problem behavior. Including direct observation methods in the functional assessment helps confirm the relationship between the occurrence of problem behaviors and the environmental events with which they are associated.

What are the advantages and disadvantages associated with this form?

The Functional Assessment Observation Tool combines elements of the ABC Chart and the scatter plot to collect a large amount of information efficiently. The way the data is collected allow for a visual analysis to detect patterns between environmental events and behavior. Although it may seem confusing at first, with practice it often becomes a preferred data collection method. 

The major disadvantage of the Functional Assessment Observation Tool is that it does take more time to learn to use it effectively. In addition, Functional Assessment Observational Tool data is only correlational, which means the causal relation cannot be confirmed. Strategies that systematically manipulate environmental antecedents and consequences, referred to as a functional analysis, are often used in research. However, in many cases, direct observations that include information about behavior, environmental events preceding and following the behavior, and time of occurrence are sufficient to provide confidence in the team's hypothesis statement.

How much data should I collect using the Functional Assessment Observation Tool?

Each functional assessment is different, just as each student is unique and engages in different types of behavior. Direct observational data should be collected until the team members are confident about the function or functions maintaining a student's behavior. In simple situations, this may occur within 3-5 sessions. In more complicated cases, direct observation data may be needed across a number of settings and for longer periods. If your team remains unsure that the hypothesis statement(s) are accurate, find a professional with a background in applied behavior analysis or positive behavior support who can assist with the functional assessment. This professional may recommend different data collection methods or could assist in conducting a functional analysis.

How do you decide what type of direct observation tool to use?

There are many different kinds of direct observational strategies you can use. Once you become familiar with the data collection process, you may decide to adapt a currently existing tool or develop your own. The purpose of direct observational strategies in the functional assessment process is to be able to provide support for the team's hypothesis statement describing the function maintaining a student's problem behavior.

How can I find out more about this type of observation tool?

The following reference contains a number of important functional assessment tools that your team can use which are described in detail and describe the process in an easy to understand format:

O'Neill, R. E., Horner, R. H., Albin, R. W., Sprague, J. R., Storey, K.,
& Newton, J. S. (1997). Functional assessment and program development
for problem behavior: A practical handbook (2nd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA:


Additional References

Bambara, L. M., & Knoster, T. (1998). Designing
positive behavior support plans. Washington
DC: American Association on Mental 
Retardation: Research to Practice Series.
Rehabilitation Research and Training Center
Product (1999). Facilitator's guide on
positive behavior support. The Positive
Behavioral Support Project, Department of 
Child and Family Studies of the Louis de 
la Parte Institute of the University of 
South Florida.