Antecedent interventions are programs that are implemented prior to and regardless of whether or not a challenging behavior even occurs. They can help establish motivation to engage in desired behaviors or abolish the value of the reinforcer that was previously maintaining a challenging behavior. There are multiple forms of antecedent interventions, but the most commonly used in ABA practice are behavioral momentum, noncontingent reinforcement (NCR), and functional communication training (FCT).
Behavioral momentum is the result of the implementation of a high-probability instructional sequence (high-p). Especially for redirecting a behavior that occurs in the presence of a non-preferred activity or demand, utilizing high-p can build behavioral momentum towards engaging in the targeted task. For example, during academic programs, if a child is continuously engaging in escape-maintained behaviors to avoid engaging in the task at hand (a low-probability behavior), a therapist may present a series of targets the child has a higher probability of engaging in. These are usually previously mastered tasks that have little response effort (i.e., imitation or one-step directions). After reinforcing a series of these easy-to-follow demands, the therapist would then present the previously avoided task. By reinforcing the previously high-probability behaviors, you build up the momentum to engage in the low-probability behavior.
Behavioral momentum is a great way to address problem behaviors while maintaining the expectation that a child engages in the skill that you are trying to teach.
Noncontingent reinforcement (NCR) is an antecedent intervention strategy that is most commonly used to address behaviors that are maintained by escape or attention. In NCR, access to whatever has been previously reinforcing certain behaviors is provided to the child independent of whether or not they engage in the behavior.
Most commonly NCR presents as set breaks or set check-ins from parents. In these cases, a child may access a break or attention from their parents on either a fixed or variable time schedule. For example, during an ABA schedule, a therapist may provide a short break at the top of every hour or ask the parents to check-in with the child every 30 minutes during a virtual therapy session. The rationale behind this strategy is that it decreases the value of the reinforcers (escape or attention) that were previously maintaining the problem behaviors.
Functional communication training (FCT) is a great way to teach a child to appropriately communicate their needs without having to engage in the challenging behaviors that previously accessed them. For example, for a child that engages in escape-maintained behaviors, a therapist may teach a child how to mand for a break. Here, the child is still gaining access to their desired reinforcer (escape from a demand), but is being taught to communicate that need in a functional way. FCT can be taught through a variety of verbal communication techniques (i.e., vocally, through PECS, using an AAC device). An additional benefit to FCT is that it can be generalized to address multiple behaviors that may be maintained by the same reinforcer. For example, if a child engages in both eloping and ignoring requests to access escape from demands, teaching the FCT phrase “I need a break” can be used to address both of these behaviors!
While research shows that these three strategies are effective in addressing challenging behaviors, it is important to note that none of them are a “quick fix”. Antecedent interventions should be implemented continuously and only after the function of a challenging behavior has been identified (using ABC data or a functional behavior analysis). Identifying the function of a behavior before implementing an antecedent intervention can assure that you are targeting the root of the behavior and still providing the child with what they need.
Eyas Landing is a therapy clinic with a mission to provide evidence-based and family-centered therapy services for children, adolescents, and their families. The primary goal is to deliver relationship-based interventions within the most natural environments and to empower families to reach their full potential. To achieve this goal, our highly educated, compassionate staff dedicates time and expertise to create experiences that maximize therapeutic outcomes. The strength, determination, and perseverance of our clients are evident as they succeed in therapy, and ultimately in their daily lives.
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