The interest that has been generated in functional assessment is not something that is new in psychological circles. However, the interest in it was intensified greatly around 1997 because of amendments that were made to the Individuals with Disabilities Act. These particular amendments mandated that personnel at schools conduct functional assessments on any students that had behavioral problems which resulted in being expelled or dismissed, and that these assessments then be used to look for likely interventions that could help these students and others like them. Schools are also required to deal with in-service training of all of their personnel in ways that have a direct relationship to these functional assessment techniques.
There are many different ways to carry out a functional assessment, however, and the ideas that were created by researchers into the issue are subject to interpretation by the person carrying out the assessment. It is also important to note that the amendments that were made to the Act in 1997 did not specify what kind of functional assessment should be carried out or provide any kind of guidelines when it comes to the issue. Looking at the literature of others shows that there are limitations with functional assessment, including the way that disciplinary problems are handled and the willingness and ability of personnel at various schools to conduct that kind of functional assessment (Cone, 1997; Nelson, Roberts, Rutherford, Mathur, & Aaroe, 1999).
Cone (1997) shows that there are many different issues that surround the application of functional assessments, and that these include distinctions in terminology, how adequate the actual assessment methods are, the difficulties that can potentially come from teaching personnel to conduct functional assessments, and other significant issues. Consistent with the work done by Cone (1997), other studies that are more recent have shown that most administrators in special education and most psychologists that work in schools support the use of functional assessment techniques, but that many of them are uncertain as to the value that these assessments really have when dealing with the creation of interventions for students that are high on the problem-behavior scale, as well as those that cause less difficulties (Nelson, Roberts, Rutherford, Mathur, & Aaroe, 1999).
Nelson et al., (1999) also raise the questions as to whether personnel at many schools are willing to use this assessment technique, whether they are capable of using it properly, and whether the concept of functional assessment in actually used correctly where interventions are concerned. Many different conceptual articles have raised this issue (Cone, 1997; Nelson, Roberts, Mathur, & Rutherford, 1999). Naturally, not all of the research findings that are discussed will correlate with everything that is being done by professionals, and so opinions differ on the issue to some extent. However, there is a great deal of literature that focuses on or addresses to some extent the issue of functional assessment, and much of the literature that is available provides one of the most common and best suited means for making a determination as to whether functional assessment has a great degree of value, not just from an empirical standpoint but from the standpoint of those that work in the field as well. It is important to study both research that has been done and also whether functional assessment seems to work well in the field.
There have been several reviews of functional assessments that have been conducted in school settings (Blakeslee, Sugai, & Gruba, 1994; Dunlap & Childs, 1996; Lane, Umbreit, & Beebe-Frankenburger, 1999; Nelson, Roberts, Mathur, & Rutherford, 1999). As an example, Nelson, Roberts, Mathur, and Rutherford (1999) reviewed 97 other studies that dealt with functional assessment. Information was taken from these studies that appeared in various different journals and involved 23 school-based studies. These studies were all conducted and the findings published from 1989 to 1997. However, no truly comprehensive review of functional assessment studies based on schools has actually appeared. This makes it unclear as to whether many of the conclusions that were based on selected studies would still be valid if all of the school-based studies that were available were to be considered. This would have to include the studies that appeared in psychological journals that revolved around school psychology.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND APPLICATIONS TO THE FIELD OF REHABILITATION
Applying this issue to the field of rehabilitation is very important for several reasons. When students have behavioral or other discipline problems, the reasons are often unclear. Sometimes, these problems stem from learning disabilities and other mental issues that can be dealt with in various ways. This emphatically does not mean that every individual that has problems in school and is disciplined for it has mental retardation, cognitive impairment, or some other problem that makes it understandable that they would act out and cause problems. Students that are just troublemakers are out there in every school, and many of these students are very intelligent. Some of them act out simply out of boredom, while others feel the need to fit in and therefore want the attention that being a troublemaker often gets them. This may be especially true if these individuals do not get the attention that they need from their parents or other caregivers.
However, for all of those students that act out simply because they can, there are also students that do not seem to be able to help this unruly and unwelcome behavior. Many of these students have cognitive impairments or other problems that stop them from performing in the way that they should. Sometimes they will act out because they are frustrated and unhappy due to these problems, and sometimes they are simply incapable of doing anything else, at least with the techniques and understanding that they currently have. Despite this, however, there are many of these impaired students that are disciplined instead of understood, and this is something that can be changed through intervention and rehabilitation for many of these individuals. When they are made to feel comfortable and understand their own abilities, their 'bad' behavior will likely be lessened.
This is important, but it must be gone about in the right way. when it is not, there are often more problems caused than there were in the first place, and this can make it much more difficult for the students, the teachers, and the parents and siblings as well. Having a child with a handicap or mental problem is often already very stressful for parents, especially if the mental handicap is so severe that the child will never be able to live on their own, hold a job, or have any kind of a normal life. Many years ago, most individuals with cognitive impairment were thought to be this way. However, advances in learning and understanding when it comes to mental health issues have shown that this is quite often not the case.
Instead, many of these individuals who were largely seen as 'hopeless' before can do many different things on their own - but there are specific ways that they must be taught, because they learn differently from everyone else, and there are certain concepts and ideas that many of them may never be able to actually grasp with clarity and understanding. They must have intervention in their schooling and in many other aspects of their life, and they must be 'rehabilitated.' Naturally, these individuals will only be able to progress to a certain level. Those that are born with mental impairments are never going to be the same as those that are born without any mental difficulties. This does not mean, however, that these people should be given up on or that they will not be able to be useful and productive members of society in most cases. In other words, they will be able to do much more than was previously thought if they are taught in the proper way.
As for what this means to the field of rehabilitation, it means that there are different ways of looking at the issue and that understanding is something that is very strongly needed. Not every child with a mental impairment can be taught everything that he or she needs to know, but many of those that have only mind impairment are able, with proper training and teaching skills, to be worked into classes that have 'normal' children in them, and they are able to keep up with their peers and do the work that is assigned to them. This gives them extra confidence in their abilities to be productive and amount to something, and this extra confidence will also help them to excel in everything that they do. In order for them to do this, however, they must have a functional assessment and the areas that they need help in must be worked on.
For those that work in the rehabilitation of these individuals or work with interventions concerning them, an understanding of what the individual can do is often more…