The What, Why, and How of ABC Data

Guest Authored By Elizabeth L-M, RBT

What  

ABC Data tracks the Antecedents, Behaviors, and Consequences surrounding behaviors targeted for increase or decrease. It is an essential way for caregivers and therapists to better identify the possible functions of a child’s specific behavior. Identifying a behavior’s function can help inform decisions on interventions for that specific behavior that will be more effective and significant. 

Antecedents Antecedents are what happens immediately before a behavior occurs. Identifying these can help identify what environmental changes or expectations evoke behaviors. Examples of antecedents to a behavior could be: 

  • What the child is doing when the behavior occurs (preferred play, school work, transitions) 
  • Where a behavior occurs 
  • How many people are present in the area when the behavior occurs 
  • Specific times of day when the behavior is more likely to occur 

For example, continuous ABC data may be collected and reveal that a child’s attempt to elope from an area occurs reliably when transitioning from play to instructional demands. This information can better inform future interventions to help prepare the child for the transition and give them the functional communication and coping skills to navigate these transitions.  

Behaviors When recording behaviors, it is important to provide as much detail as possible. This is not always easy when recording in the moment, but, when possible, details should be added. Some details to include may be: 

  • Details on what the behavior looks like (i.e. used both hands to push chair with enough force for the chair to topple over; sat in crisscross position on the floor with hands on knees) 
  • How long the behavior occurs (i.e. tantrummed for 3 minutes; engaged in on-topic conversation for 2 minutes)  
  • The magnitude of the behavior (i.e. screamed loud enough to be heard in adjacent rooms, bite with enough force to break skin) 

Having specific details surrounding what a behavior looks like can help identify small variations of behaviors that may initially look very similar. For example, with the pushing behavior example above, using two hands to push over a chair with enough force for it to topple over is significantly different than using two hands to push in a chair under the table. One of these behaviors we would want to decrease, while one we want to make sure we maintain. Having the information on the details and magnitude of these two different behaviors can make sure our interventions target specific behaviors as opposed to general behaviors.  

Consequences When people hear the word consequences, they often immediately think of punishment. This isn’t always the case when taking ABC Data! Consequences in this context are whatever happens immediately after the behavior occurs. Consequences can look like: 

  • Granted access to preferred toy 
  • Receive verbal attention from others- both positive and negative (i.e. comforting statements such as “it’s okay”, or verbal reprimands such as “stop that”) 
  • Verbal or physical redirection to new activity  
  • Physically blocked from access to preferred item 
  • Ignored 
  • Independently engaged in self-soothing activities (i.e. squeezing hands, heaving lifting activities) 

Consequences are essential in helping identify what actions or objects are reinforcing behaviors (increasing their probability of occurring in the future), or punishing behaviors (decreasing their probability of occurring in the future). More information on reinforcing and punishing behaviors can be found here.  

Why 

As mentioned earlier, taking ABC data is essential in helping identify what may be motivating or hindering a behavior from occurring. It is also necessary in establishing what reinforcers may be maintaining the behaviors or what punishers may be preventing future occurrences of the behavior. This information helps parents and therapists establish effective interventions and treatment plans that ensure that the child has functional ways to access what they need in a safe and appropriate manner.  

How 

ABC data can be taken in a variety of methods! As mentioned previously, the more information the better, but even simple anecdotal notes on what surrounds a behavior can help inform future programs and interventions. ABC data forms usually appear as simple as a three-column chart with Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence labels for each respective column. Your child’s therapist, however, can assist in creating data sheets that are more specific to your child and can help make the data collection process easier.  

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.

Eyas Landing offers a wide range of comprehensive services including Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, ABA Therapy, Social Work, Family Therapy, and Neuropsych testing. Services are provided throughout the Chicagoland area via Telehealth, In-Home, and in our state of the art clinic.

Want to learn more or you have a specific question? Feel free to connect with us here!