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Most Utilized Data Collection during ABA sessions

Part 1: Frequency, Opportunity, Duration

When receiving ABA, data collection is a vital part of ABA services. In the ABA field, decisions relating to treatment plans, strategies, and programming are driven by data. With the data, we can review and determine if the learner receiving services is improving their skills, improving their behavior, and if they require assistance in a certain area.

How this data is collected will depend on the method used. While there are more details about how the ABA field collects data, this blog post will be focusing on the 3 most common methods.

If you want to learn about more data collection strategies, you can check out ABA Courses: ABAT (QABA) course (available in English, Dutch, Arabic, Spanish) and our 40-hour RBT courses (BACB) on, which offers a full course on measurement and includes measurement procedures within the 40-hour courses.

Most common ABA Data Collection Methods

The most 3 common methods we discuss in this blog, are: 

·               Frequency or Event Recording

·               Duration Recording

·               Per Opportunity Recording

When collecting data on a behavior or a skill, the ABA clinical team will discuss how they are defined, also named the operational definition of the target behavior. Operational definition means, the description of the behavior in observable and measurable terms (check out this glossary to learn more about ABA terminology.)

It is this behavior where the ABA clinical team, the learner’s family, and others who interact with the child, can read this definition and be on the same page on what to observe and track data on whether the behavior is increasing or decreasing. This definition is tied into the Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), which defines steps on how everyone should approach and teach the skill. This may include details such as the level of assistance to provide the learner when to praise and track data for their correct response or their approximations, and even the teaching method for the learner to learn the skill.

Once the details have been reviewed on what specific behavior or skill needs to be tracked, you will also go over the data collection method for it.

As mentioned, we will only go over the 3 most common data collection methods in this blog post. We will first start with frequency data.  

1.  Frequency or Event Recording

Frequency or event recording is defined as the number of times the person presents the behavior. When collecting frequency data, think of the question: 

How many times did the person do this?

Collecting frequency data during sessions is used when the length of the observation time is consistent across days. For example, always 1 hour. In the case the length of the observation varies, you want to use rate data (which is the frequency divided by the length of the observation time.) I will go into this measurement during my next blog.

To collect this frequency data, you may use paper and pen; do it electronically; use a whiteboard, or use a clicker. During one of my parent training sessions, I observed a parent using a whiteboard on her wall and she tallied the frequency of tantrums on there. I asked her how she was able to collect the tally marks, and she explained that when the tantrum occurred, and after she arranged her environment where her child cannot throw items, she would walk away and tally on the whiteboard the tantrum occurrence.

Another way for collecting frequency data on a target behavior is using a clicker. In our South Bay ABA Works’ clinic, each room has clickers and can be held in the Behavior Technician’s pocket throughout the session. There are times when I’m not able to get to my paper data collection sheet on time, and I use the clicker in my pocket to quickly track the behavior of interest observed.

2.  Duration Recording

Another data collection strategy that is included in the RBT and ABAT course, and we use in our South Bay ABA Works clinic, is duration. This is defined as the length of time the behavior was observed. In other words: 

How long did the learner do this behavior for?”

Duration data is most often used in ABA if the behavior of interest has a distinct beginning and ending and if it occurs at very high rates (for example, getting out of a seat in class 30 times in 5 minutes.). To collect duration data, a stopwatch, or any timer, will be used to obtain an accurate reading on how long a behavior lasted. There are times when the behavior can happen suddenly, and this is when a clock comes in handy.

For example, during one of my sessions at ABA Works, I was not able to reach the stopwatch in time, but I looked at the digital clock which displayed 3:43 pm. When the behavior stopped, I looked back at the clock, which showed 4:02 pm. This showed that the duration of the behavior was 19 minutes (which is a very long time!). In the case the duration of a challenging behavior is high, the ABA clinical team will continue to analyze the behavior and the Behavior Intervention Plan to determine the appropriate strategies to help decrease the duration of the behavior.

3.  Per Opportunity Recording

The final data collection method we will discuss is per opportunity recording. This method is mostly used when working on a skill. When taking opportunity data, the question we will ask is:

How often did the target behavior occur when the learner was given the opportunity to perform the behavior?”

Or in other words, it will be the equation: number of correct trials/total number of opportunities, multiplied by 100%.

An example of collecting per opportunity during the session is if you are working on labeling cards (a tacting program.) You presented 10 cards, but your kiddo only got 9 correct. This means that your kiddo got 9/10 correct (90% = a very good score!). Another example is if a parent is working on generalizing the skill of following simple instructions (a listener responding program) and their child followed 4 out of 5 of those instructions. This calculates as 4/5 correct (80% = still a good score, and should continue to work more on it).

Another example is if children in a social skills group (SSG) (click here for ABA Works’ SSG groups) are working on maintaining reciprocal conversation (an intraverbal program.) We observe that the learner can maintain 2 out of 5 conversations, which calculates as 2/5 correct (40% = means, continue to work on more and contrive more opportunities to work on the skill).

There is no set rule in the science of ABA of when to change your approach or plan. At our South Bay clinic, ABA Works, we decided that if the percentage is low and shows no progress across 2 weeks (or 3–5 sessions), it is then determined how the skill should be retaught, so the learner can succeed in the skill.

Data collection is a significant driving factor of ABA services. By collecting accurate data, we can review and determine the progress of the learner’s skills and the improvement of their behavior. Continue to follow our pages, so you can check out our next post about other data collection strategies.

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