Use of the structured descriptive assessment to identify possible functions of challenging behaviour exhibited by adults with brain injury

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Behaviour modification procedures for challenging behaviour, based on principles of operant learning, benefit from an accurate appraisal of behavioural function. Numerous methods of direct and indirect functional assessment exist, which have relative strengths and weaknesses. In this study, structured descriptive assessments were used to identify the function of challenging behaviour. The application of this hybrid approach has been unexplored in the neurobehavioural literature. The structured descriptive assessments involved the systematic manipulation of antecedent variables (only) that were conducted by typical caregivers in the normal environment. Also, observational software was used to provide a high degree of analytical detail. The methodology was found to be effective in generating hypotheses of behavioural function and also efficient as a clinical research tool. Only just over 2.25 hours of assessment data were collected for each participant, on average, and yet functional relationships emerged in respect of all four participants. The aggression exhibited by two participants was deemed to serve a demand escape function and the challenging behaviours of the other two participants were attributed to an attention gaining function. Future studies should implement additional validity measures by corroborating findings with other (experimental) functional assessment techniques or by implementing treatment programmes based on its results.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)501-527
Number of pages27
JournalNeuropsychological Rehabilitation: an international journal
Issue number4
Early online date10 Apr 2013
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • Brain injury, Challenging behaviour, Descriptive analysis, Functional analysis, Structured descriptive assessment, aggression