A Brief Overview of Considering “Function”

All children learn academically, and behave in manners that make senses from a “functional” perspective.  Specifically, on the academic side, children acquire a new skill, then become proficient at the skill, and finally can use the skill for some other purpose.  Reading, math, writing and so on all follow the same progression.  On the behavior side, children misbehave because the misbehavior gets them something (often referred to as attention seeking behavior), gets them out of something (often called an escape behavior), or they simply don’t know how to do the primary skill in the manner required.  Teachers understand this process, yet for some reason a case has been made that we should avoid talking about “function” when considering how to work with children who are having some academic and social behavior difficulty.

The case for considering function is a simple one.  Teachers are smart, and we feel able to make an educated guess at what stage of the academic sequence a child is having difficulty, or for what reason they are misbehaving.  In addition, there are a variety of strategies that a teacher can use (e.g. brief academic assessment or ABC recording), or a intervention team can engage that can help suggest what the most likely reason is for the problem.  Teachers and/or teams who attempt to consider function can then chose EBIs which are validated to deal with that situation, rather than EBIs which have no theoretical design to be effective with the target child.  Teachers or teams who don’t consider function are left at simply grabbing any EBI and hoping it is right for the child.  In the end, those who consider function are more likely to pick the right intervention.

When should this process start?  We would argue at the grade level team level.  Brief and simple discussions about why the teachers who know the child believe the child is having difficulty can help them try early solutions that are designed to help the child in need.  If the child seems to not know an academic skill, an academic acquisition intervention is suggested.  If the child seems to be attention seeking an EBI such as Check In Check Out can be attempted.  While ideally the team is correct in their thoughts about the function, in the end if the intervention works they know they were correct, if not, they can try something else!

At the intervention team level this whole process should simply be a bit more systematic.  A bit more time considering the function, some more data, and a few additional educational professionals to help the process along.

Our goal at the EBI Network is to help provide teachers and teams who want to make the best decisions for students by providing materials and interventions that are geared to considering function.  If you have suggestions for tools that might help your team please drop us an email and we will see if we can help!