#11 The ABCs of ABA



Behavior analysts try to identify what triggers a behavior and what consequences keep a behavior going.  An antecedent is what happens before a specific behavior.  Analysts view the immediate environment as the major cause of behavior.  This includes the setting, people, objects, events and so much more that is going on around us all the time.  Analysts collect data – called ABC data (also known as functional analysis data) – on what happens immediately before and after a behavior to find out why and when a behavior is happening.   Analysts may also conduct interviews with caregivers and teachers, known as a Functional Behavior Interview (FBI), which is a part of Functional Behavior Analysis (FBA).

Antecedent interventions alter the environment before the behavior occurs.  The goal is to decrease challenging behavior and increase desired behaviors.  Focusing on changing the environment before a challenging behavior occurs is considered key for preventing challenging behaviors.  Some examples of this are teaching expectations, substituting a preferred alternative, removing from temptation, increasing predictability, making work breaks available by request, using checklists, allowing kids to make choices when possible, setting goals, using positive phrasing, and choosing rewards in advance. 

Another strength of using antecedent based strategies is that it takes less effort that correcting the problem behavior.  An easy-to-use antecedent strategy is altering the child’s environment, which leads to better behaviors, by systematically altering the immediate environment when/where the problem behavior is more and less likely to occur.  They use this information to make desired behaviors occur more often and inappropriate behaviors less likely.  Changing what we do before and after a behavior can often change the behavior itself.  That’s why collecting ABC data is so important, so we know what changes cause what resulting behaviors.  Another easy-to-use strategy is ‘pre-teaching’ or explaining and modeling exactly what you’d like the person to do.  This helps the person learn behavioral expectations, which is important for many reasons.



Analysts look for patterns in the ABC data that they collect.  These patterns predict when behaviors are likely and unlikely to occur.  Knowing the function of the behavior and what is maintaining it is crucial to changing the behavior.  Challenging behavior is seen as a means of communication, so behavior analysts try to figure out what someone is saying with their actions and then teach them a more appropriate way to communicate their needs and wants. 

There are four general functions of human behavior: to escape, to end or to avoid something; to receive attention; to get access to a tangible item or activity; and to feel good or relieve something that feels bad.  A behavior can have more than one function.  The context of behavior along with past consequences accurately accounts for a behavior.   

A functional behavior analysis tries to identify the purpose of the behavior by taking into account several different factors.  It considers the behaviors of concern – frequency, duration and intensity, the person’s strengths, what triggers behaviors, what escalating behaviors occur before the target behavior, and acceptable replacement behaviors.  Once a function has been identified, antecedent interventions can be applied to decrease the behavior’s occurrence by preventing the behavior from occurring. 

It is important that behavior analysts understand what motivates a person.  Once we understand what motivates a person, we can reorganize their environment to provide motivating things in the absence of challenging behaviors.  The goal is to strengthen appropriate behaviors, promote the use of replacement behaviors and decrease challenging behaviors.  When children know the consequences of future events, problem behaviors decline while engagement rises. 



A consequence is something that happens after a specific behavior.  Sometimes the environment can’t be changed in a way to prevent the target behaviors; and positive and negative consequences are used to shape behavior.  Reinforcements are directly related to motivation, personalized and delivered immediately after a behavior as a consequence.  Behavior changes by systematically and immediately delivering a consequence, creating an increased likelihood that the desired behavior will occur again.  This allows the person to connect the desired behavior and the positive consequence together. 

The person should be observed to understand their unique interests and motivations.  Doing this helps to determine what reinforcers should be used to create behavior change.  If the target behavior is not increasing, then a different reinforcer may be needed.  When possible, the person may be asked what they’d like as a positive consequence, or reinforcer.  Positive reinforcement usually adds something desirable, such as praise, hugs or candy.  Negative reinforcement removes something that is undesirable such as a loud noise; it is not a punishment.  Positive reinforcement is the most effective way to teach a person a new behavior.  


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