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

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.

Origins of ABA

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 Basic Beliefs

ABA 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 or problem 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.

ABA Strategies Can Improve Problem Behaviors

In this two-part blog series, I will explain how I use ABA strategies in our home to help replace the undesirable or problem behaviors of my 4-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.

ABA Strategies Will Work For All Children

I also realized each 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.

ABC Data Collection Steps

Step 1: Pick a Problem Behavior to Target

The first thing to do is to pick the problem behavior you want to target. I recommend starting with just one.

Common Problem Behaviors

  • Property Destruction – throwing, kicking, knocking objects over, or forcefully smacking objects.
  • Aggressions – pushing, pulling, hitting, biting, scratching, or kicking.
  • Non-compliance – refusal to respond to commands or transitions by dropping to the floor or vocal protesting.
  • Tantrums – 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.

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.

Step 2: ABC Data Collection

After you identify the problem behavior, the next step is to is collect data over at least two weeks.  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 record the data.  ABC stands for “Antecedent,”Behavior,” and “Consequence.” During this time, you are not attempting to change the behavior. It is important to first understand why it is happening.

A: 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.

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.

Antecedent Examples Using Problem Behavior of Property Destruction

An example of Denied Access would be the child wants play dough, and the caregiver doesn’t give it to him, so he throws his sippy cup.  If the caregiver tells him to pick up the sippy cup and he sweeps his hand 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 caregiver’s attention, but they are on the phone, and so the child throws 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 Task.

An example of Not Engaged in Task would be the child is just walking through the living room and knocks over a lamp for no apparent reason.

An example of Transition would be the caregiver is moving the child from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity. For example, moving them from playing with a toy to the potty or for a diaper change, and the child gets frustrated and throws the toy.

In the ABC Data Collection chart, I included the definitions and abbreviations. In the column for Antecedent, you write the abbreviation and then a short phrase  such as:

AT: I was cooking dinner. 

This would mean that before the problem behavior, your attention was diverted away from your child because you were cooking dinner. Then the problem behavior occurred, which we record next.

B: The “Behavior” in ABC Data Collection

For the B in ABC, you will write exactly the behavior that was observed.

Be very specific. You are not writing down Property Destruction. That is the problem behavior you are targeting, but you are writing detailed descriptions of what that behavior looks like. For example:

  • threw sippy cup
  • knocked over a lamp
  • kicked car racetrack

C: 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.

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 the child initially was altered or stopped.
  • Attention Provided – Child received ANY type of attention from the caregiver.
  • Ignored – Behavior was ignored by the caregiver.
  • Other – Consequence was something other than those above.

We will break down these descriptions of consequences again using the example of Property Destruction.

Consequence Examples Using Property Destruction

The child wants play dough doesn’t get it (Antecedent), and as a result, he throws his sippy cup (Behavior).

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, then 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. The caregiver gives that child attention, even negative, then that is Attention Provided

Ignored 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, merely collecting data to establish a pattern.

Conclusion for Part 1

It is important to remember for Part 1, you are only collecting the data.

In Part 2, we will discuss what you are going to do with this data to help replace the undesired behavior with the desired behavior.

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

Published by

Amy Nielsen

Amy Nielsen is a former children's librarian of nearly twenty years. She now spends most of her time obsessively pounding on a keyboard. She is the author of It Takes a Village: How to Build a Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her upcoming YA Worth it debuts in May of 2024. She is also a freelance writer for The Autism Helper. When she's not writing, she and her family are most likely crusing the waters of Tampa Bay.

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