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The 3 Most Asked Questions for ABC Data: What? Why? How?
ABC data is a type of data collection that clinicians and caregivers are asked to record quite often. Here we will discuss 3 questions that are often asked when someone is asked to record this type of data: What is it? Why do we need to record it? How do we collect data using this method?
1. What is ABC data collection?
The “ABC” in ABC data stands for Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence. There are 3 main parts to ABC data.
- Antecedent: What events happened immediately before the targeted behavior occurred
- Behavior: The target behavior (e.g., the behavior you are trying to understand more about)
- Consequence: What events occurred immediately after the behavior
Many people will “the behavior happened out of nowhere”, which appears to be a possibility, initially. However, maladaptive behaviors do not occur “out of nowhere”. There is typically some sort of “trigger” even if it was not able to be observed by others. Some common antecedents (though not intended to be an exhaustive list) include:
- Attention (e.g., a person is attending to the individual which could be vocal, physical, or through shared activities)
- No attention (e.g., a person is focused on something else and the individual is not receiving any attention)
- Demand placed (e.g., a demand or directive was provided to the learner to engage or stop engaging in some sort of task or activity)
- Item withheld (e.g., an item was not provided to the individual) Item removed (e.g., an item was taken away from the individual)
- Other potential antecedents: Environmental elements (e.g., loud noises, lights turning on or off, people entering or leaving the proximity of the individual, private events/thoughts, etc.)
Behaviors can vary across individuals. When there is a specific targeted behavior for decrease, it is typically targeted due to the impact it has on the individual’s quality of life. Some common behaviors targeted may include self-injury, aggression, property destruction, elopement, and tantrums.
Consequences have a different meaning than what is typically perceived. It simply refers to what happens after the behavior occurs. Some common consequences (though, again not intended to be an exhaustive list) include:
- Attention (e.g., a person gives the individual attention; this can be positive in affect (e.g., praise or questions such as “What do you want?” or negative in affect such as “Stop doing that”, body language, eye gaze, etc.)
- Planned ignoring (e.g., a person intentionally does not give any attention to the maladaptive behavior)
- No attention (e.g., without being a planned event, no attention is given to the individual for the maladaptive behavior occurring)
- Providing access (e.g., giving the individual a tangible item or access to an activity)
- Removing access (e.g., withdrawing access to a tangible item or activity)
2. Why do we need to take ABC data?
ABC data is used to assist in determining the function of behavior or, why the behavior occurs and what is maintaining the reoccurrence of that behavior. When conducting a functional behavior assessment (FBA), it is only one part of the process. It may be important to collect the data across individuals (known and novel) because we all have a learning history with different people, and our behavior may change dependent upon the person we are interacting with due to how they engage and respond to the individual.
Without knowledge of the function of behavior, you will run the risk of implementing a behavior intervention plan that does not assist the individual in reducing maladaptive behaviors and increase functional skills. There are four functions of behavior which are Automatic, Escape, Access, and Attention.
3. How do we take data?
The clinician will typically provide a data collection sheet for ABC data. Sometimes the data sheet is a “fill-in” in which you write in the responses. Other times you may receive a checklist where, when known antecedents, behaviors, and consequences occur, you simply check off the events that happen which can be very helpful when behaviors occur rapidly. Data sheets may also include the date, time, and location, since behavior not only varies across people, but across times of days, activities, and settings.
While a specific behavior may be targeted, it can be helpful to be explicit about the behavior occurring. What this means is, instead of saying “tantrum”, it may be helpful to list the actual behavior(s) that occurred in that moment such as screaming, crying, dropping to the floor, etc. (even if more than one occurred).
Your supervisor or clinician can assist you with recording ABC data. Just know that your objective observations are valued and can contribute meaningful behavior change when it benefits the individuals we are supporting!
Be sure to check out our other articles specific for Behavior Technicians including our last post:https://aba-works.com/top-3-challenges-for-new-behavior-technicians/
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