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The Process of Positive Behavior Support (PBS)

Step Four: Hypothesis Development

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Once a functional assessment is complete, the next step is to develop a hypothesis statement—a prediction or "best guess" of the function or reason a child’s challenging behavior occurs. This includes a description of the child’s challenging behavior (i.e., what the behavior looks like), information about the specific predictors or triggers that occurred before the child exhibited challenging behavior, the perceived purpose or function of the child’s behavior, as well as the maintaining consequences that followed. Predictors include both what conditions immediately precede the child’s behavior, as well as any setting events that may be presumed to increase the likelihood of the challenging behavior’s occurrence (e.g., lack of sleep, allergies/illnesses, social and interactional factors). Hypothesis development is a critically important step toward developing interventions that are directly linked to the function of the child’s challenging behavior (O’Neill et al., 1997).

Very young children have brief learning histories (Dunlap & Fox, 1996). In many cases, those with a limited repertoire of behavior will often use one behavior for several different purposes. For example, children often use a general tantrum (prolonged screaming, crying, pulling away) for multiple functions (e.g., request object and escape transition). Therefore, when sorting out hypotheses the support team should address all of the circumstances in which challenging behavior occurs rather than trying to match an individual function to each challenging behavior.

Once the behavior support team identifies its hypotheses, attention should be paid to the way by which hypotheses are written. They should be carefully written either as a series of sentences that include each component (e.g., description, predictors, purpose, maintaining consequences), or as a "when…then" or "if…then" statement (Hieneman et al., 1999). Remember the more clearly articulated the hypothesis, the more likely the hypothesis will clearly communicate the team’s understanding of the child’s challenging behavior.

Click on the arrows in the yellow navigation bars to be taken through the process step by step.

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