Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP): The Complete Guide to Writing a Comprehensive Plan

A Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), sometimes referred to as a Behavior Plan or Positive Behavior Support Plan provides a roadmap for how to reduce problem behavior. Usually, the BIP is part of a larger overall treatment plan or IEP, contributing to the learner’s long-term success in an important way. It provides a written plan or instructions for addressing challenging behavior and teaching skills that help the learner get what he wants in a more appropriate way (a functionally-equivalent replacement behavior).

Behavior Plan: A roadmap for behavior change
Behavior Plan: A roadmap for behavior change

Contents

What Is a Behavior Intervention Plan? Functions of Behavior The Difference Between FA and FBA Writing an Effective Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Behavior Intervention Plan

What Is a Behavior Intervention Plan?

A BIP is a blueprint for changing behavior. In a formal setting, it guides treatment and ensures that everyone responds to behaviors consistently. It includes interventions selected based on the hypothesized or demonstrated function of the behavior with the intention of reducing challenging behaviors (what the learner “gets” by engaging in the behavior). Less formally, it can be used by parents and caregivers to ensure everyone interacting with the learner remains on the same page about a behavior strategy.

Although the written document feels like a final product, it’s actually a fluid, even dynamic part of treatment. Throughout treatment professionals monitor the learner’s response to interventions and determine their effectiveness. The professional adjusts the plan based on the progress, or lack of progress, of the learner. The written plan may include criteria for gradually shaping behavior, but it typically requires multiple revisions over time.

How Does a Behavior Intervention Plan Improve Behavior?

No matter how well-written, a piece of paper cannot change the behavior of a learner alone. In fact, a well-written behavior plan actually changes the behavior of the adults who interact with the learner as much as or even more than the learner himself. Learners are not puppets and their behavior does not change unless the environment changes.

A behavior plan provides strategies for others to utilize to help the learner prepare for and react to triggers when they come up. It offers antecedent strategies for minimizing exposure to or the impact of common triggers, setting the learner up for success and reducing the learner’s need to rely on the target behaviors to get what they need or want. It includes strategies for teaching alternative ways of accessing the maintaining reinforcer (often through the use of functional communication training).

The plan only works if the adults who interact with the learner actually implement the strategies in the plan. It’s common to write a behavior plan expecting parents, teachers and RBTs to implement it with fidelity on a regular basis, but the author should account for conditions that are unpredictable. It might be possible to achieve a high degree of fidelity in a clinic setting, but in a chaotic home environment, this is nearly impossible to achieve. A plan that speaks to the right audience with realistic expectations and clear strategies has the greatest chance of changing the behavior of the adults who will implement the plan. It’s these adults who ultimately are responsible for improving behavior.

When Does a Learner Need a Behavior Plan?

Not all learners need a behavior plan. Learners who respond well to group contingencies or who receive services primarily for skill acquisition likely don’t need a BIP. If ABA is funded through an insurance company, they often require a formal, written plan. You must know the requirements of the funding source as well as the specific needs of the learner to determine if a plan is needed.

If the learner engages in challenging behavior at school, the school staff should conduct a functional behavior assessment (FBA) and write a behavior intervention plan (BIP). The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires an FBA when a child with disabilities engages in behavior that threatens his current school placement. This includes suspension and removal from class as these impact the learner’s exposure to the curriculum.

Preparing to Write a BIP

The process of developing an effective BIP starts long before you put pen to paper (or start typing on you laptop). You must collect relevant information from a variety of different sources to make sure you develop a thorough understanding of the behavior before you decide which interventions to include in your plan. Do not rely on only one source of information. This mistake can mean you miss important, relevant variables that impact the learner’s behavior. Acquire the following information through direct observations, interviews and document reviews:

  • Comorbid diagnoses
  • Family composition and history
  • Target behavior(s) and operational definition(s)
  • Relevant environmental variables including antecedents, consequences and setting events
  • Additional information (reinforcers, interests, strengths, cultural variables, etc.)

Get to know your audience. Adapt your plan to the person who will be reading or implementing the plan including school staff, parents, RBTs, or insurance companies. Your audience should dictate the language you use in your plan. Make it easy to read yet technical enough to be effective.

A study conducted by Tarbox, et al. (2013) found that professionals who used a web-based tool for creating behavior intervention plans produced a significantly higher rate of including function-based interventions. The AID membership is your guide for efficiently creating effective behavior plans!

Keep in mind that before you create your BIP, you must conduct a functional behavior assessment (FBA) or a functional analysis (FA) to identify the function of the target behavior(s).

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Functions of Behavior

All behavior occurs because the individual gets something out of it (gets something good or escapes something bad).  In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), the reason a behavior continues is called the function of that behavior. These functions serve as reinforcers for the learner.  If the behavior no longer works for that purpose, the behavior will stop and a new behavior will take its place.

Identifying the function of the behavior is critical in developing an effective BIP. The goal of the BIP is always to teach the learner adaptive ways to access the reinforcer maintaining the target behavior and may also include a plan for teaching the learner to tolerate when that reinforcer is not available. To meet this goal, you must accurately identify the specific functions maintaining the behavior.

The functions of behavior are discussed in depth in our post Functions of Behavior in ABA: Complete Guide.

Determining which Function Controls Behavior

Want a tool that will help you conduct an FBA and create a function-based BIP? Check out our AID Document Creation Tools membership! *

*Note you must be a member of our ABLE Support for BCBAs to join AID.

The Difference Between FA and FBA

The field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) offers wonderful tools and techniques to help us understand behavior and teach new skills. With this comes an abundance of terminology and acronyms. Functional Analysis (FA) and Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) are two terms that are often confused. Do you know the difference between these important assessments?

Functional analysis and functional behavior assessment both help professionals identify the function of a behavior. The difference lies in the degree of confidence in the results and the intrusiveness of the assessment. A functional analysis demonstrates control over the behavior thus providing the professional with reliable results. While a functional behavior assessment allows the profession to develop only a hypothesis of the maintaining variables.

In school, we are often taught that the functional analysis (FA) is the “gold standard” when it comes to identifying behavioral function. This is due to the degree of confidence in the results of the assessment. By contriving and controlling different variables, the assessor demonstrates specific control over the behavior. In recent years, the ethics of exerting this type of control over a learner has come into question.

A functional behavior assessment (FBA) returns less reliable results and requires collecting information from a variety of sources including observation of the behavior as it occurs to gather data that then gets analyzed. This again requires the learner to be subjected to potentially aversive conditions that provoke the target behavior so that it can be measured. Again, in recent years, the ethics of this practice has been questioned by autistics and caring professionals alike.

Dr. Greg Hanley identified a third option that he calls the Practical Functional Assessment (PFA) (Hanley & Gover, 2018). In this process, he combines aspects of each of these processes in an effective and ethical practice. He relies heavily on interviews with people who know the learner. He uses the interview process to dig into the underlying function of the behavior to form a hypothesis then he tests the hypothesis by essentially demonstrating that he can effectively “turn the behavior on and off.”

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Should You Choose an FA or FBA?

When choosing among the different available methods of identifying the function of the target behavior, consider how confident you must be in the results of the assessment. In many situations, forming a hypothesis that turns out to be incorrect or incomplete is completely acceptable as, over time, you will collect and analyze data to measure the effectiveness of your interventions. There may be specific circumstances where even a small margin of error could harm the learner. In these instances, an FA may be the most ethical of assessments.

Functional Analysis (FA)

A functional analysis manipulates environmental conditions to evoke challenging behavior. This is done to demonstrate control over the behavior. If the professional can predictably create a condition that evokes the behavior, they identify the function of the behavior within a reasonable degree of certainty. A functional analysis must be completed by an experienced professional as it requires contriving conditions in specific ways in an attempt to elicit behavior.

When conducting a functional analysis, the professional contrives conditions in an attempt to elicit target behavior, reinforce, then measure how frequently the behavior occurs during subsequent conditions. Conditions align with potential functions: demand, restricted attention, preferred items withheld, and play (control). The professional measures the occurrence in each condition and demonstrates control when behavior repeatedly occurs more often in one condition over the others.

While this interview is long, it’s well worth the time invested. Brian Iwata, a major contributor to the field of ABA, describes functional analysis in detail. Any professional seeking to understand functional analysis should watch this.

Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)

A functional behavior assessment collects a variety of data about an identified behavior to evaluate the conditions in the context within which it’s already occurring. Professionals collect these data through both direct and indirect methods such as observation, interviews and data collected by collaterals without manipulating any existing variables.

When a pattern emerges through the evaluation of these data, the professional forms a hypothesis about the function. Professionals must express clearly that their conclusions are a hypothesis and should not assume their conclusions are fact.

Types of Data Collected During Functional Behavior Assessment

The key behind the FBA process is collecting data from a variety of sources. Begin with indirect assessment via review of incident reports and interviews or questionnaires completed with parents, teachers or caregivers. This guides the rest of the process by providing target behaviors and some insight into when the learner is most likely to engage in the behavior.

Antecedent Behavior Consequence (ABC) data are fundamental elements of the functional behavior assessment; however, these data rely on observation of the behavior as it occurs in the natural setting, exposing the learner to potentially aversive circumstances to learn more about the behavior. Scatterplots also rely on observing behavior in the natural environment and provide critical information about the occurrence of behavior during components of the day such as a specific time of day or during specific activities within the day. Additionally, several other documents assist in working through the information collected during the assessment.

The ABC data sheet allows you to record what happens right before and right after the behavior you want to learn more about. The data sheet could include check boxes of common antecedents, behaviors and consequences or be more free-form allowing for more detail. Don’t forget to consider setting events as a potential influence over behavior.

ABC data sheet with check boxes

Below is an example of a scatterplot. The scatterplot offers a visual representation of the occurrence of behavior across different times of the day (or activities) and days of the week. This provides an opportunity to spot trends in the data you might otherwise miss.

The Competing Behavior Pathway begins to put all of the information you collect together while also considering replacement behaviors you might teach. It provides a visual display of common setting events, replacement behaviors and the ultimate desired behavior. Working through the process, allows you to consider both short- and long-term goals. How will the learner access the same reinforcer as the target behavior (short-term goal including a functionally-equivalent replacement behavior) and how will the learner engage in behavior that contacts reinforcement in the natural environment (long-term desired behavior)?

Collecting and analyzing the data for a functional behavior assessment takes time and patience. Professionals must consider all variables that might impact the behavior. Despite all of this, the professional cannot say for certain that they have identified the function of the behavior. The result of a FBA is always a hypothesis of the most likely function.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Many advantages and disadvantages exist for both functional analysis and functional behavior assessment. Understand the risks and benefits of each before you begin. If you are unsure about whether or not you should conduct one of these assessments, seek supervision from an experienced Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

Advantages Disadvantages
Functional Analysis ~Provides greater
accuracy, predictive
control
~”Gold standard” for
identifying function
~Requires extensive
training to implement
~Risk of reinforcing
undesired behavior
Functional Behavior
Assessment
~Easier to implement
~Information can be
gathered from various
sources
~More efficient in some
circumstances
~Avoids reinforcing
potentially dangerous
behavior
~Less accurate for
identifying function
~Form a hypothesis of
function

Both of these assessments are tools in the professional’s toolbox that should be utilized when appropriate. Each assessment should be carefully considered before being implemented.

Choosing Between FA and FBA

Choosing between a functional analysis and functional behavior assessment can be confusing, especially for professionals new to the field. In general, professionals should choose the simplest, least intrusive intervention available that is likely to be effective. In addition, professionals must ensure they collect the most accurate data available to them. Often these 2 requirements would lead to very different choices.

That being said, here are some general guidelines:

Choose a functional analysis when:

  • It is within your scope of competency to do so or you have access to a supervisor willing to support you
  • You have access to an environment that you can sufficiently control so as to be successful in contriving the conditions
  • There’s limited risk of danger associated with the behavior
  • The risks of not correctly identifying the function of the behavior outweigh the risks of conducting the FA

Choose a functional behavior assessment when:

  • A functional analysis is outside your scope of competency and you don’t have supervisory support to conduct one safely
  • The behavior presents potential danger to the client or someone else
  • You are not likely to be successful in contriving the conditions with sufficient efficacy to obtain reliable data
  • You are required by law to conduct one

When an FBA is Required

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that schools conduct a functional behavior assessment (not a functional analysis) if the child’s behavior impacts his learning, the learning of others, or puts his placement at risk. Sacramento State University published this Fact Sheet that answers some frequently asked questions about when schools are required to conduct a functional behavior assessment.

A Third Option

As mentioned earlier, Dr. Greg Hanley presents a third option that offers some of the benefits of a functional analysis while ameliorating some of the disadvantages. Although the technique requires some training to ensure efficacy of implementation, the risks are greatly reduced. Essentially, the professional collects information through interviews in order to form a hypothesis. The professional then takes this information to recreate a situation that will trigger and subsequently terminate the behavior (i.e. removing a preferred item then giving it back contingent on target behavior) thus demonstrating control over the behavior.

For more information on the Practical Functional Assessment click here.

Ready to get started with a tool that will help you conduct an FBA and create a function-based BIP? Check out our AID Document Creation Tools membership!*

*Note you must be a member of our ABLE Support for BCBAs to join this membership

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Writing an Effective Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)

Effective BIPS require some practice to write. Remember the purpose behind your plan. Typically, you create a BIP for someone else to implement. Write it so that person understands exactly what you want him/her to do. Be as specific as possible using clear, jargon-free language. Many different factors impact the usability of your BIP from the overall structure and framework of the BIP to the smallest detail so it’s worth taking time to consider each component as you go along.

Behavior Plan Framework

When building your BIP, you can create a framework around a whole response class (multiple behaviors serving the same function), common antecedents/functions, or individual topographies of behavior. Choose the framework that you are most comfortable with or that best meets the needs of your learners, but make sure that your interventionist understands your plan. Although there isn’t one correct framework, it’s difficult to switch between them for different learners. Constantly changing the structure of your BIPs becomes confusing for your interventionists. Choose one that is appropriate to most of your learners and stick with it.

Consider the following when choosing a framework:

  • The antecedent structure requires that the interventionist correctly identify the antecedent and then react accordingly, potentially utilizing different strategies across different antecedents.
  • The antecedent structure may include some redundancy when the same interventions are used across different antecedents.
  • Using a topography structure often creates redundancy as you often implement interventions across more than one topography when they serve the same function.
  • When you are dealing with behaviors that are part of different response classes, using a structure around response classes requires multiple different plans.
  • A plan written for a specific response class directs the interventionist to address each of the target behaviors in that plan as though they were the same behavior. This means that you cannot include behaviors in the plan that are not part of that response class (and thus would be addressed differently).

Here are some templates to help you compare the different options:

Behavior Plan Formatting

Generally, agencies have a template they use when documenting behavior plans. Often the template dictates which framework you must use. This information will help you if you start your own business, provide contract or consultation services, or have the liberty to choose your own format when working for an agency. If you must use an agency template, consider how the format impacts implementation. Provide training to your interventionists to ensure treatment fidelity.

Below is an example of a behavior plan written in an antecedent framework.

Sample behavior intervention plan (BIP) antecedent framework
BIP-Antecedent Framework

Formatting a behavior plan is a matter of structuring the information in a way that is easy for the interventionists to refer back to when needed. The image above shows an example of a behavior plan written in the antecedent framework. Each section provides interventionists with strategies for common antecedents (i.e. difficult task, low attention, etc.). The formatting of this plan allows the interventionist to quickly find the antecedent and then scan to find the interventions they should implement. There are limited instructions for implementing the intervention, but if the interventionist is familiar with the interventions, these might be sufficient.

When creating your plan, utilize headings and tables to allow interventionists to quickly scan to find the information they need. Bulleted lists break up text and distinguish one intervention from the next.

Our membership delves further into creating behavior intervention plans. Here, let’s look at how to write a detailed plan.

Steps to Writing a Behavior Plan

Writing a behavior plan consists of many steps that do not involve sitting behind a computer screen. This is an active process that requires substantial data collection and planning. The steps below are a guide, but remember that you may need to add steps depending on your setting and the rules in your area.

  1. Acquire informed consent from the parent or guardian
  2. Collect baseline data
  3. Collect FBA or FA data
  4. Analyze the data to identify a hypothesized or tested function of the target behavior(s)
  5. Research appropriate interventions
  6. Assemble the components of the plan
  7. Review the plan with the human rights committee if the plan includes any form of seclusion or restraint or if otherwise required (know the laws and rules for your specific area)
  8. Review the plan with the parent or guardian and obtain a signature
  9. Train staff to implement the plan

Components of An Effective Behavior Intervention Plan

Several components come together to create a complete treatment package to address maladaptive behavior and each component builds the foundation for positive behavior change. While some elements may be optional based on the setting or other supporting documentation, all plans should include the following components.

Identifying Information

Ensure that all staff know without a doubt whose plan they are reading. Include sufficient identifying information to make this crystal clear. Appropriate identifying information includes:

  • Child’s name and any nicknames
  • Child’s date of birth
  • Date of the plan (to ensure staff recognize the most recent plan)
  • Date of plan revisions
  • Author
  • Supervisor
  • Setting (if appropriate)

Goal

Clearly identify the goal for the plan. Anyone reading the plan should understand the purpose behind the plan. Why is this behavior intervention plan necessary? What benefits do you hope to see for the child?

Take a look at the following examples:

Good:

Goal: To help Beth stay in the classroom without disruptive behavior.

Better:

Goal: To increase Beth’s ability to remain in the classroom and participate in classroom activities with her peers with a decrease in target behavior and an increase in adaptive alternative behavior.

Best:

Goal: To increase Beth’s ability to remain in the classroom to 95% of the school day and actively participate in activities with her peers with a decrease in noncompliance to <10 minutes/day and an increase in requesting staff attention to 75% of opportunities.

Writing a goal that is observable and measurable ensures that everyone involved is on the same page. Clarity is crucial throughout this process.

Target Behavior Definition

Target behaviors should be defined operationally, meaning that anyone reading the definition can identify whether or not the behavior is occurring. For more information on writing operational definitions, see the post: Examples of Operational Definitions: 3 Key Components. In this post, I discuss the difference between topographical and functional definitions and provide examples of each.

Here’s an example that builds on the goal for Beth above:

Noncompliance: Any instance in which Beth physically and/or verbally refuses to comply with a directive for a skill previously demonstrated for longer than 30 seconds.

Examples include:

  • Shouting “no!” and crossing her arms when asked to touch her head.
  • Sitting down on the floor when told to line up for music.
  • Running out of the room when told to sit at the table.

Non-examples include:

  • Crying while touching her head when asked to touch her head.
  • Saying “I don’t want to” while walking to the line when told to line up for music.
  • Standing still for 15 seconds before walking to the table when told to sit at the table.

Onset: 30 seconds. Offset: 30 seconds.

Hypothesized Function

Based on the assessment data (FBA or FA) you collected, write a statement describing the hypothesized (or tested if you conducted an FA) function of the target behavior(s). This statement helps keep everyone involved clear on the factors that likely maintain the challenging behavior. Learn more about functions of behavior in our post Functions of Behavior in ABA: Complete Guide.

Check out the statement for Beth’s scenario:

Hypothesized Function: Based on Functional Behavior Assessment data, including interviews with staff, ABC data, scatterplot data and direct observation, Beth’s noncompliance is likely maintained by access to staff attention in the form of reprimands, coaxing or chasing.

Antecedent Interventions

Antecedent interventions minimize challenging behavior by addressing common triggers, setting events, or other precipitating factors. Clearly understanding the conditions within which the behavior typically occurs improves the accuracy and effectiveness of your interventions.

For more information about antecedent interventions, see the post: Antecedent Interventions: Complete Guide. In this post I discuss several effective antecedent interventions as well as when to implement them.

Here, let’s look at antecedent interventions for Beth:

Antecedent Interventions:

Visual schedules: Using a visual schedule may reduce the motivating operation (MO) for Beth’s noncompliance as staff review the schedule with her prior to each transition, providing opportunities for staff attention routinely. In addition, include on her schedule multiple activities that include opportunities for her to receive staff attention (i.e. reading books, playing a math game, taking a walk in the hall).

Assigning “helper” tasks: Many of Beth’s challenging behaviors occur during transitions when staff may be attempting to gather materials, thus diverting staff attention. Assigning Beth “helper” tasks during this transition provides Beth with positive staff attention while minimizing the time staff’s attention must be diverted. For example, ask Beth to help you carry books to the circle area.

Alternative or Replacement Behaviors

Whenever you attempt to reduce one behavior, you must include a plan for teaching an appropriate alternative or replacement behavior. If you fail to include this, the child will develop her own replacement behaviors and they may be problematic. The replacement behavior should serve the same function as the maladaptive behavior you are looking to reduce.

Check out this example for Beth:

Replacement Behavior:

Functional Communication Training (FCT): Teach Beth to many appropriately for attention. When Beth is likely to engage in target behavior (i.e. before a transition when your attention may be diverted), but prior to onset of the target behavior, prompt Beth to request staff attention by saying “talk to me,” “watch me,” “look at me,” or some similar form of requesting attention. If Beth engages in target behavior, withhold attention and try again at another opportunity.

One way to teach replacement behaviors is through social stories. Read the post Autism and Social Skills: Complete Guide for more.

Consequent Interventions

Every behavior plan should include some form of reinforcement strategy for appropriate behavior. Specify what the schedule of reinforcement should be and include what behaviors staff should reinforce. The post Understanding Consequence Interventions: Punishment vs Reinforcement goes into more about these types of strategies.

For Beth we will use the following intervention:

Consequent Intervention:

Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DRA): Beth should earn reinforcement (i.e. focused staff attention in a playful manner) each time she uses a functional statement to request staff attention.

IntervalR+ ScheduleR+ Time
1FR130 seconds
2FR21 minute
3VR32 minutes
4VR53 minutes

Criteria for interval progression: <10 minutes/day for 3 consecutive days

Criteria for interval regression: >20 minutes/day for 3 consecutive days

Response to Target Behavior

In this section, you will include specifics regarding how staff should respond when the target behavior(s) occur. This should include criteria for crisis response as well as when and how staff should call for help.

Beth’s behavior is reasonably mild, so staff’s response should reflect that:

Response to Target Behavior:

  • Withhold attention to the extent possible (i.e. do not say Beth’s name, do not make eye contact, etc.)
  • Monitor for safety
  • Use body positioning to minimize opportunities to elope from the room
  • Present the demands with visuals when possible
  • Wait for compliance with initial demand
  • Resume reinforcement schedule only once compliance has been re-established

Additional Information for the Behavior Plan

At times, additional information may be relevant. This might include common setting events such as specific staff, the presence of loud noises, or being hungry (see our post ABC Data: The Key to Understanding Behavior for more). Include any other information that might help staff understand and respond to the behavior appropriately.

Keep this information related to the target behavior(s), even though you might want to include extraneous information. For example, do not include information about the child’s toileting schedule unless the behaviors occurs around toileting.

Let’s see what might be relevant for Beth:

Additional Information:

  • Beth often engages in a higher rate of behavior on Mondays and Fridays.
  • Beth typically reacts negatively to loud noises such as fire alarms or assemblies.

Beth’s Behavior Plan

The best way to learn is through examples. Download Beth’s behavior intervention plan for future reference.

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Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Behavior Intervention Plan

To determine whether your BIP is working, you must collect ongoing data. Although data sounds like a scary, scientific word, it’s just a way to measure the behavior. Refer back to your goal to choose the best measurement technique for your plan. Here are some common options:

  • Frequency (count how many times the behavior occurs)
  • Duration (measure how long the behavior occurs)
  • Intensity (use a scale to measure how intense the behavior is)

In the example used throughout this post, Sarah’s aggression should be measured using a frequency count. Simply count the number of times Sarah makes physical contact with another person. If she engages in fewer instances of the behavior, your plan is working.

Don’t abandon your BIP if the behavior doesn’t immediately change or even if it gets worse for a little while. These are common occurrences once you begin intervening on challenging behavior.

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Hanley, G. P., & Gover, H. (2018). Practical functional assessment: Understanding problem behavior prior to its treatment.

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