F-7: Conduct a descriptive assessment of problem behavior ©

Important note: Fictionalized clients are used to demonstrate the skill items in the second half of the task list, sections F-I. They make the most sense when read in order. Please remember that there is not substitute for real-life supervision and consultation. Get your case-specific advice from professionals – not from the internet! These examples are just that – examples of how behavior analytic skills might be applied.

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Case example: Jada is an elementary school student. She experiences Level 3 Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Level 3 is the severity level of Autism which is characterized by “requiring very substantial support.” Jada has also been diagnosed with a severe Intellectual Disability (ID). Jada has just transferred to a private school for individuals with global needs. She loves all kinds of play and messy activities, such as finger paint and water play. She also enjoys swinging on the playground, eating popcorn, and watching Disney movies. She loves to be read to, and laughs when staff make dramatic gestures while reading picture books. Jada does not use any vocal speech. She makes noises sometimes, such as humming. Jada engages in motor stimming, including upper body tensing and flapping her arms. Jada engages in severe challenging behavior, including self injury (hand to head and head to surface) and aggression (including hitting and biting). Jada has a mom, dad, and older brother living together in one home. Jada’s family has advocated for her to attend a private program, and they are excited for her to get high quality services. Jada’s new behavior analyst is Dr. Brown-Davis, who is a BCBA-D employed by the private program.

Example of Item F-7: Dr. Brown-Davis completes a descriptive assessment of Jada’s problem behavior over 3 days. He observes Jada across her school day, including arrival and departure. He pays particular attention to the events leading up to, during, and immediately following problem behavior. He also takes careful note of the contexts in which Jada demonstrates safe behavior. He writes a narrative account of his full-day observation on the first day. On the second day, he takes a narrative account along with ABC data for each episode of problem behavior. On the third day, Dr. Brown-Davis utilizes structured descriptive assessment methodology. This involves setting up antecedents (such as staff members ignoring Jada or taking a toy away from her) and allowing the episodes to proceed naturally from there.


Case example: Donovan is a high school student. He has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). He attends a public school and has been placed in a support program for students with social/emotional/behavioral needs. Donovan enjoys playing video games and drawing in his sketchbook. He would like to be a welder when he is an adult. Academic achievement and attendance have been challenges for Donovan historically, and he is currently not on track to graduate with his peers due to missed work and failing grades in several classes. Donovan’s team has identified challenges including frequent non-attendance to school, walking the halls during class times, non-attendance at expected guidance appointments, and non-completion of classwork. Donovan lives with his mother and older brother. Donovan’s mother is concerned about her son’s school challenges and expresses frustration about his “lack of commitment” to his education. She wants Donovan to understand how important it is to graduate from high school. Donovan’s behavior analyst is Ms. Bailey, who has just started contracting with Donovan’s school district through the agency she works for.

Example of Item F-7:

Ms. Bailey completes a descriptive assessment of Donovan’s interfering behavior over the course of 2 days. Ms. Bailey observes Donovan in several classes, making sure to include a sampling of classes that interfering behavior reliability occurs in, as well as classes that Donovan exhibits appropriate behavior. The first day, Ms Bailey simply watches and takes narrative and ABC data. The second day, Ms. Bailey utilizes a structured descriptive assessment. A summary of the assessment follows:

Donovan was observed during 4 classes each day (Math, Reading, Art, and Science). Donovan walked out of class 6 times over the course of two days. Donovan completed 4 out of 8 total assignments provided. Of the 6 times leaving class, 4 times were during Reading, and two were during Science. Donovan was gone an average of 11 minutes each time, leading to a total loss of instruction totaling 66 minutes. 

Of the 6 times leaving class, presentation of work demands, specifically work demands that required a substantial amount of reading (more than 1 paragraph) directly preceded the behavior. Donovan’s behavior resulted in individually-mediated escape of the work demands and the instructional context all 6 instances of leaving class. Once in the hall Donovan would walk to the stairwell with his sketchbook and lay down and draw, at no point did he engage with other peers in the hall. 

Donovan completed 4 of 8 work tasks presented over the course of the two days he was observed. 2 of the tasks were math worksheets and 2 were Art tasks. Donovan did not complete any assignments that included reading more than a paragraph of instructions/content.

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