Using ABA Strategies at Home: Part 1 – ABC Data Collection

Amy shares how to use Applied Behavior Analysis strategies at home to help replace undesired behaviors in children.

What is ABA Therapy?

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is the term used to describe specific behavior modification techniques used primarily with children on the autism spectrum.  These techniques find their ground roots in the research of behavior psychologist B.F. Skinner, who is often referred to as the “Grandfather of ABA.”  Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning is the belief that desired behaviors can be encouraged through positive reinforcement and discouraged through either withholding positive reinforcement or punishment. ABA also subscribes to the notion that all behaviors have an antecedent (what happens before the behavior) and a consequence (what happens after the behavior) and the combination of the two will determine if that behavior is repeated or not.  The theory is when the undesired behavior is successfully modified through ABA, then it will be replaced with the desired behavior.

Why Use These Strategies at Home?

Problem behaviors from a child are problems for adults, but for the child, they are a solution to a problem. It is our job to help our kids find acceptable solutions.  In this blog series, I will explain how I use ABA strategies in our home to help replace the undesirable behaviors of my 3-year-old son who has a speech delay, ADHD and ASD, with desired behaviors. I am no ABA therapist.  But, what I have learned is that what works in ABA therapy with a therapist will work at home with a parent! I have seen it time and time again with my child.  I also have realized that every single strategy I have learned I wish I had known while raising with my other three neurotypical children.  These strategies will work with almost all children regardless of age or developmental levels.

What’s First?

The first thing to do is to pick the behavior you want to target. I recommend starting with just one. When my son used to get super frustrated he’d throw, kick or knock things over.  This behavior, property destruction, was the first behavior I targeted. Other examples would be aggressive behaviors, non-compliance or tantrums.  It just depends on what your child is really struggling with.

ABC Data Collection

After you identify the behavior the next step is to is collect data.  ABA is a data-driven, scientific process.  That is one of the reasons it is so successful.  You will use what is called the ABC Data Collection chart to collect and analyze the behavior for a few weeks.  ABC stands for “Antecedent”, “Behavior” and “Consequence”. During this time you won’t be attempting to change the behavior.  This is the time you are digging deeper to unveil a clear picture of what is really going on.

The “Antecedent” in ABC Data Collection

For the A in ABC Data Collection, you’ll record the antecedent, or what happened before, the undesired behavior.  The following are the most common antecedents.

  • Denied Access – Child was denied something he/she wanted.
  • Demand – Child was asked to do something.
  • Attention Diverted – Caregiver was not giving child attention.
  • Engaged in Task – Child was playing or engaged in an activity.
  • Not Engaged in Task – Child was not engaged in anything specific.
  • Transition – The child was being required to move from one activity to another.
  • Other – Antecedent was something different than explained above.

I’ll break this down using the example of the behavior I targeted with my son which was Property Destruction.  So if the antecedent is Denied Access an example would be the child wants play dough and you don’t give it to him so he throws his sippy cup.  If you then tell the child to pick up their sippy cup up that he just threw down and he took his hand and swept it across the kitchen table knocking things to the floor that would be Demand.  An example of Attention Diverted would be if the child is trying to get the parent’s attention and they were on the phone and so the child threw his sippy cup.  If the child is trying to build a train track and the pieces keep coming apart so he throws them that would be Engaged in TaskNot Engaged in Task maybe the child is just walking through the living room and knocks over a lamp.  An example of Transition would be perhaps the parent is moving the child from a preferred activity to a non-preferred so maybe from playing with a toy to the potty or a diaper change and the child gets frustrated and throws the toy. These are the most common.  In the ABC Data Collection chart, I included the definitions and abbreviations.

The “Behavior” in ABC Data Collection

For the B in ABC you will write exactly the behavior that was observed.  For example, “Threw down sippy cup” or  “Swiped hand across table knocking plate to the ground.” The example of Property Destruction includes things such as “throwing, kicking, knocking objects over or forcefully smacking objects.  Aggressions would be things like pushing, pulling, hitting, biting, scratching or kicking.  Non-compliance would be things like refusal to respond to commands or transitions by dropping to the floor or vocal protesting.  Tantrums would be any of the above behaviors lasting longer than 10 seconds.  So a Non-compliance during a Transition where the child drops to the floor but then they stay there protesting longer than 10 seconds would be a Tantrum.  The point here is to record what you actually see happening.

The “Consequence” in ABC Data Collection

For the C in ABC you’ll record the consequence, or what happened as a result of the behavior.  Here are the most common consequences.

  • Access Granted – Child got what he/she wanted.
  • Denial Kept – Child wasn’t given what he/she wanted.
  • Demand Kept Original – Child was made to do what was asked of them.
  • Demand Changed – What was asked of child originally was altered or stopped.
  • Attention Provided – Child received ANY type of attention from caregiver.
  • Ignored – Behavior was ignored by caregiver.
  • Other – Consequence was something other than those above.

We will break down these descriptions of consequences again using the example of Property Destruction. So the child wanting play dough doesn’t get it and as a result, he throws his sippy cup.  If Access Granted was the consequence then that means the caregiver gave him the play dough.  If Denial Kept was the consequence then that means the child didn’t get it.  If the caregiver tells the child to pick up the thrown cup and Demand Changed was the consequence than perhaps the caregiver picked it up for the child.  For Attention Provided, if the caregiver was on the phone and the child threw the cup because he wanted their attention for some reason and the caregiver gives that child attention, even negative then that is Attention ProvidedIgnored obviously means the caregiver simply does not respond to the behavior.  Now, none of these consequences are right or wrong.  In fact, they are all right OR wrong depending on how they are used.  But for this purpose we are, again, simply collecting data to establish a pattern.

This is now the end of Part 1.  Remember for this part, you are only collecting the data.  In Part 2 we will discuss what you are going to do with this data you have collected to help replace the undesired behavior with the desired behavior.

Give me a child and I’ll shape him into anything. – B.F. Skinner



Author: bigabilities

Amy Nielsen lives in Orlando, Florida. She is the proud mother of four children ranging in age from 3-30! She and her husband, Brent enjoy sports and traveling. Amy is a former teacher with 20 years experience, a freelance writer, and special needs advocate. Her mission is to help educate and empower families of children with disabilities to focus on their child's interests and strengths.

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