FBA as a learning tool with your ASD kid

Functional Behavioral Analysis is one of those things on the learning curve that is autism.  That curve is SO steep that you get mental whiplash over and over and over.  FBA comes in pretty early though, on the steepest and most vertiginous curves that you will probably face in the road course that is autism.

FBA consists of breaking a behavior down (and it's always an unwanted behavior, which is stupid, because wouldn't you want to analyze the whys and wherefores of desired behaviors in order to increase them?) into its ABCs - antecedent, behavior and consequence.  First, you define the behavior in very narrow terms (not aggression, but biting other students), then the antecedent and consequence.  In this case the antecedent might be "peer in student's personal space" and consequence might be "peer goes away."  Then you take lots of data and look at it for a pattern.

Today, however, I used it as a learning tool with my teenager, who had a hard day.  And, frankly, I thought it worked pretty damn good, so I'll share it with you.

Meltdown FBA

Sam has been going up to the school to practice going through his schedule to make sure he can get from class to class smoothly, knows when and how to access his locker, etc.  This week, however, they are doing some construction on the inside of the school, and things are a bit messed up.  Certain doors locked, other doors (like the boiler room) open while they work.  Sam and his TSS went into a stairwell that he would normally take and found, when they got upstairs, that they were locked in.  So they went down and found they were very locked in.  Then his TSS took them to the basement where they saw a teacher through the door who let them out.  However, by that time Sam was in meltdown mode and started making demands that could not be met and then bolted unsafely into the boiler room where ladders were set up for the construction that was going on.  At that point his TSS felt he was unsafe and said they would have to go home.  But Sam was in extremely rigid/meltdown mindset and insisted on completing the schedule they were following but she wouldn't let him.

Later, Sam was going out to walk the dog and turned to his TSS and said "Ms. C, you are looking very sexy today."  At which point I took away his electronics privileges for the day.

Tonight we talked and did an FBA together, but we gave it more kid friendly terms: Before, Action, Consequence.  I put it in chart form and we filled in the action first.  Sam provided the words: I lost control.  Then I ran into the boiler room.

Next we did the Consequence: Ms. C made us walk home and I couldn't finish my schedule.

Last we went back to the part that required insight  - Before: We got locked in the stairwell and I got uptight, scared.

We talked about how the only part where he can intervene is in the Before.  He has to recognize when he is getting uptight.  We talked about how he identifies that - his body gets tense and he feels tight emotionally.  He doesn't recognize that his speech gets high pitched and staccato, but people around him should and should point it out.  Then we talked about alternatives he can think about: Ms. C knows how to get us out, we could take the bar off the door and go outside, Ms. C has a cell phone and can call for help.  Also he has to ask for supports - those things that peers and adults do to help him calm.  And we made a separate graph of supports that help him calm.  We posted that graph in the hall so we can add to it over time and review it.

Inappropriate comment FBA

When we did the Action: I said "You look sexy" to Ms. C, and Consequence: I lost electronics and then the Before was much different: I was thinking about The Longest Journey (a computer game with some adult language) and in the beginning Zach says to April "You look sexy today" and it makes her upset.  So I said it.  Which if you know the Asperkids (Secret) Book of Social Rules you will realize that he was bubble riding.  He got caught up in the video playing in his head and it became part of  his interaction.

So we discussed how people use filters, like dad uses a colander to drain noodles.  It keeps some stuff in and lets other stuff out.  And, because we want people to be happy and like us, we let out the stuff that makes them happy and is helpful, and keep in other stuff.  When I discuss it with him again, I will say that we let out our real thoughts, which is a term we talk about a lot.  Real thoughts and stuck thoughts (which are perseverations) are different things.  And perseverations should stay in the filter.

We also discussed words that make people feel safe and happy, and words that make people feel unsafe and unhappy.  And we made lists of those and posted them to add to.  I explained to him that calling anyone sexy is only to be used in a relationship like dad's and mom's.  That calling other people sexy makes them feel unsafe.  And we talked about words like smart, pretty, retard, nigger.  Some of these words he hadn't heard before, but he needs to know them before he uses them unwittingly.

I was super impressed with his insight.  I know that he will play around with some of the words we discussed, but I hope he does it now, at home, and not in places where people will not understand.  Unfortunately, there is no way to ever discuss all of the hurtful words that people use.  But we have a running discussion in our house of how people use words and how words are only bad when they are used to hurt or anger people.

In fact, I made Sam do an essay this summer on profanity, which uncovered information that was new to me.  But that's another blog.


  1. It also includes elements that require players to calculate percentages and use other mathematical skills to better play the game.



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