Haring Center

February 15, 2021

New App Supports Families to Address Challenging Behaviors at Home

Challenging behaviors in young children often occur at home during daily routines and activities, according to Angel Fettig, Haring Center researcher and UW College of Education associate professor. A family may be working with a professional interventionist to address these behaviors, but that professional is unlikely to be there in the moment to observe the behavior and create a support plan.

With funding from the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, Fettig partnered with Erin Barton at Vanderbilt University and Hedda Meadan at the University of Illinois to support parents in reducing challenging behaviors.

The research team developed a mobile software application called the Family Behavior Support app (FBSApp), targeted at parents of children ages 2-5 years who display challenging behaviors at home.

“We wanted to create an accessible tool that families can use to address challenging behaviors,” says Fettig. “Based on the percentage of adults who use smartphones, an app is the best way to get that support to families.”

The FBSApp uses functional assessment-based interventions, which work by determining the purpose of a particular challenging behavior and subsequently developing a plan to reduce and prevent that behavior. It begins by prompting parents to enter data about the challenging behaviors exhibited by their child.

“The app guides families through which data to gather: what does the challenging behavior look like, what is its intensity, what happened right before it occurred, and so on,” explains Fettig. “We want enough information to understand the purpose of the challenging behavior, so we can identify strategies for reduction and prevention that are aligned with that purpose.”

With enough data, the app’s algorithm suggests a function for the behavior, and asks the parent to confirm. If the parent thinks the suggested purpose is inaccurate, they can continue gathering data to determine the true function. Once a parent confirms the purpose, the algorithm creates a behavior support plan that matches the data gathered.

“For example, if the identified purpose of the challenging behavior is to get attention, there might be one set of strategies,” says Fettig. “If the purpose is to obtain a desirable object, there are other strategies for the parent to try.”

The FBSApp offers implementation support for the plan, a recording system to monitor progress in reducing and preventing the challenging behavior, and links to other family resources.

The recent release of this app in the Apple Store is the result of three years of research and development by Fettig and her colleagues. After creating and refining the algorithm behind the app, they partnered with the University of Illinois computer science program to develop the software. The research team tested the app out with parents of children showing challenging behaviors, and also conducted a randomized controlled trial for the intervention.

“This tool does not replace professionals who are supporting families,” emphasizes Fettig. “It is built so families can work in collaboration with professionals.”

Fettig explains that data collection is one of the first steps in the process. She says the FBSApp offers an easy-to-use data collection format for families to gather data when the interventionist is not present. The families add any professionals working with their child to their account so the professionals can view the data, behavior support plan, and collaborate and provide support.

“Also, during the pandemic, a lot of behavior services are provided through tele-intervention,” says Fettig. “This might serve as a tool for collaboration when providers can’t be there physically, for the parents to gather data and engage in collaborative planning and support.”

“Technology promotes accessibility to the evidence-based practices we have,” Fettig continues. “Through this app, we are translating the research and strategies we use in early childhood settings into homes.”

Find the Family Behavior Support App in the Apple Store, available to download for free.If you have questions or need support using the app, email bartonlabvu@gmail.com.