In this edition of ABA Behind the Scenes, Jami Hardy, MS, BCBA, LGPC, will be walking us through what happens before and after a particular behavior occurs and how it affects future behavior.
To understand why behavior occurs, we need to know what happens before, during, and after the behavior. In ABA, when we discuss events that occur right before a behavior, we call these antecedents — the “A” in ABCs. Events that occur after the behavior are called consequences — the “C” in ABCs. As you may have already guessed, behavior is the “B” in ABCs.
Behavior comes in many forms and can include anything a person says or does. ABA specifically focuses on behaviors we can see (overt behaviors) so that we can provide effective interventions for those behaviors. When we talk about overt behaviors we focus on behaviors that are observable, measurable, and objective — behaviors that can be described in order to tell a story about what is happening. Any time behavior occurs, there are antecedents and consequences that also occur right before and after the behavior. These events affect future behavior.
As an example, if we walk by a store at the mall and see a little girl crying by her mother’s feet, we may have no more information about that situation. However, if we would have walked into the store a few minutes before the little girl began crying, we would have seen that mom told the little girl she could not have the new jacket she asked for. Mom telling her daughter “no” to the item she clearly desired is the antecedent to the behavior of crying—the “no” occurred before the crying. After watching for a while, we may notice after the girl has been crying for a few minutes, mom decides to buy the jacket, and give it to her daughter to put on as they leave the store. Buying the jacket in this scenario is the consequence — it occurred right after the behavior of crying.
Observing and recording antecedents (before) and consequences (after) behavior will guide us in determining potential reasons behavior may occur by looking for common patterns. This type of data collection is referred to as ABC data collection. Using the example above, mom telling her daughter “no” to buying the jacket is the antecedent (A), which led to the crying behavior (B), and mom eventually buying the jacket was the consequence (C) following immediately after the crying. If crying behavior were to occur in other situations in which mom originally denied her daughter an enjoyable item or activity, but later changed her mind and gave it to the daughter after crying, we might determine that crying occurs because the daughter has previously gotten what she wants from her mother after crying. Crying to gain access to toys and clothes has become a pattern and short storyline for daughter and mother in this example. The daughter has learned that crying may be an effective way to get what you want and need.
|Antecedent (What happens before behavior)||Behavior||Consequence (What happens after behavior)|
|Teacher hands out math assignment||Johnny stands on the desk and starts throwing paper||Teacher sends Johnny to principle’s office without math assignment|
|Mom bakes chocolate chip cookies||Susan asks mom for a cookie||Mom gives Susan cookie|
|Sun is beaming on Josh’s back at the beach||Josh puts up an umbrella||Sun is blocked by umbrella|
The above chart shows patterns for which different behaviors occur. Notice that the examples can all be observed, measured, and described if someone were to witness them. After discussing with your BCBA different behaviors in which your child engages, the BCBA may then collect ABC data themselves and ask you to collect data like the chart listed above. These descriptive data will be used to work with you and your child to determine patterns of behavior. This information will guide you and your BCBA to help support your child to either increase or decrease behaviors.
If you have questions regarding your child’s behavior, your BCBA will be your best resource. If you are looking to receive ABA services contact firstname.lastname@example.org to see if there is a provider in your area.
By Jami Hardy, MS, BCBA, LGPC