Advances in Neurodevelopmental Disorders

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 386–396 | Cite as

Investigation of Functional Analysis Methodology in Adult Service Programs to Develop Efficient and Effective Treatment Approaches

  • Cynthia M. AndersonEmail author
  • Sarah A. Weddle
  • Margaret L. Walsh
  • Jaclyn Guglielmo



The best practice in treatment of severe problem behavior such as aggression or self-injury is to conduct a functional analysis to identify environmental variables evoking and maintaining problem behavior. This information is then used to develop an intervention. Functional analyses consist of at least one test condition and one control condition. In the test condition, a hypothesized reinforcer is delivered only contingent on problem behavior whereas in the control condition that contingency is absent. Typically, the test and corresponding control consist of a single antecedent variable (e.g., presentation of requests) and a single consequence (e.g., removal of requests); however, “synthesized” test conditions, in which multiple antecedent and consequent variables are presented simultaneously, may be used as well. The purpose of this study was to compare results of these two types of functional analyses.


We began by conducting each type of functional analysis with three adults with developmental disabilities. Next, we tested interventions based on results of the functional analyses to determine whether one method of analysis better predicted intervention.


Although both assessments led to effective interventions, for two of three participants, the synthesized analysis resulted in a false-positive identification. In other words, for these participants, the synthesized analysis identified one or more environmental variables as linked to problem behavior, but this result was not substantiated in the treatment analysis.


Further investigation is needed to determine the cost-benefit of conducting standard versus synthesized functional analyses in adult service settings.


Functional analysis methodology Problem behavior Adult Intervention 



The authors would like thank the clinicians who assisted with the study including Sean Regnier, Katherine Lora, Karin Page, Rachel Fox, Glenn Little, Jennifer Hayes, Amy Gorman, and Whitney Kleinert.

Author Contributions

CMA: designed the study, executed the study, assisted with data analysis, wrote the paper, and edited the paper in response to reviewers. SAW: executed the study, assisted with data analysis, and collaborated in the writing and editing the manuscript. MLW: executed the study and wrote part of the results. JG: executed the study.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

Ethical approval to conduct this study was received from the May Center for Applied Research Institutional Review Board and the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services Research Review Committee.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from the guardians of all participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019
corrected publication 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.May InstituteRandolphUSA

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