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The Big Four: Functional Assessment Research Informs Preventative Behavior Analysis


Current practice guidelines suggest that the assessment and treatment of challenging behavior should consist of conducting a functional behavior assessment following the onset of problem behavior. This assessment process can include indirect and direct assessment, as well as manipulation of variables to determine function. The purpose of this article is to outline a proposal that would add prevention practices to early intervention guidelines for problem behavior. Based on decades of research, the suggestion is to proactively teach children at risk for problem behavior to navigate four of the most common conditions that have been demonstrated to occasion problem behavior. Prevention is made a possibility because a large body of research examining the conditions under which challenging behavior occurs has been reliably replicated. Preventative approaches are an emerging phenomenon and reflect a progression in the practice of behavior analysis. Prevention may lead to acquisition of prosocial behavior before problems arise, to expedited and enhanced treatment, to increased access to favorable learning environments, and, we hope, to improvement in the quality of life for many children at risk for the development of problem behavior.

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Correspondence to Shahla Ala’i-Rosales or Justin B. Leaf.

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None of the authors have any conflicts of interest with the information presented within this article.

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This article does not contain any studies with human or animal participants performed by any of the authors.

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Ala’i-Rosales, S., Cihon, J.H., Currier, T.D.R. et al. The Big Four: Functional Assessment Research Informs Preventative Behavior Analysis. Behav Analysis Practice 12, 222–234 (2019).

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  • Problem behavior
  • Functional analysis
  • Functional behavior assessment
  • Prevention
  • Early childhood interventions