The ABC’s of Behavior

By December 1, 2021Blog

What Are the ABCs?

Molly’s daughter, Sarah, suddenly started running away when it was time for bed. Molly would chase her around the house, and this would cause bedtime to be much later. Molly thought this was because Sarah didn’t want to go to bed. However, after learning about antecedent, behavior, consequence data, or ABC, she realized Sarah was running away because she wanted her mother’s attention.

After this realization, Molly stopped chasing Sarah and would instead announce that it was time for bed and, without much ceremony, guide Sarah to her bedroom to put on her PJs. ABC data changed how Molly reacted, which in turn, changed Sarah’s behavior.

The purpose of ABC for autism is to record events or actions that occur before and after someone exhibits a behavior.

Some of you may be wondering, what even is an antecedent? Allow us to explain.

An antecedent is an event or behavior that occurs before a target behavior (i.e., the behavior of interest) occurs. Another way to think of an antecedent is as the “trigger” for a targeted behavior. Common triggers include sensory sensitivities to noises/lights, new routines, demands, transitions, and denied access to something preferred, such as a toy.

For the behavior portion, it means any action that a person exhibits following the antecedent. The last part of the term is consequence, which is what occurs immediately after the behavior. These consequences help practitioners determine what is maintaining a behavior. For example, if every time a child cries (behavior), he gets a chocolate bar (consequence), gaining the chocolate bar after crying would be the maintaining consequence.

The ABC's of Behavior
Practice the ABC with your child

The Purpose of ABC Data Collection

After learning about what the ABCs stand for, you may be wondering what the purpose is for this data. Recording ABC data is critical in applied behavior analysis (ABA) because it helps determine what leads to a child’s behavior. ABC Data collection allows us to recognize what the behavior can look like and whether it is positive or negative.

With more in-depth ABC data, we can also get an idea of how long the behavior may last, a certain time of day the behavior is more likely to occur, and it can help us be more in-tuned to environmental triggers that may cause the behavior at hand.

For practitioners in the field, using ABC data can help hypothesize the function of the behavior. In other words, this helps providers create an intervention plan for the person to target a behavior. It also helps with examining any patterns in what comes before and after the behavior.

For example, each time Jim sees the cookie jar (antecedent), he begins to scream and cry (behavior), which leads to his babysitter giving him a cookie to reduce his screaming and crying (consequence)

From an ABA viewpoint, recording ABC data in this scenario is extremely helpful because it can help a practitioner determine that Jim’s behavior is due to wanting a cookie. His behavior continues because he knows his babysitter will give him a cookie if he screams and cries.

Instead of screaming and crying, using ABA Jim can learn to ask for a cookie politely. From this data, his babysitter can also receive information about scenarios when it would be appropriate to give Jim a cookie but to not do so when he screams and cries.

How to Take ABC Data

Parents, teachers, caregivers, practitioners, and therapists are examples of the many individuals who can record ABC data. Not everyone has prior experience using ABC data, so keep reading for helpful tips on making the process (especially if it is your first time)as smooth as possible.

You can easily access and print many data sheets on the internet. All ABC datasheets will include separate boxes labeled “Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence,” but it is best to choose a data sheet that is the most user-friendly to you!  There are also tons of video resources on YouTube and via Google search that explain how to take ABC data.

When beginning to take data, it is best to not overwhelm yourself and take data for the whole day. Start by taking data a few times through the day when you anticipate the behavior or while it is happening. Once you begin writing down what you witness, you want to be as clear and descriptive as possible while keeping in mind that you’ll be looking for what comes before the behavior, what the behavior looks like, and what comes after the behavior.

After becoming comfortable with tracking these three steps, you can start recording how long the behavior lasts, the time of day, and how many times a day it occurs. Parents should take ABC data until they feel they have enough to form conclusions about the behavior.

The ABCs may be unfamiliar at first, but it helps us track behaviors, and learn more about a child’s needs and areas of improvement. Ultimately, getting to know the ABCs allows us to be one step closer to progress!

Tips for Taking ABC Data

There are multiple ways you can approach recording ABC data. Some people prefer more detailed sheets where you can write down specific actions and the time they occurred, others prefer a simplified sheet where they can jot down a few notes about the behavior.

No matter which method you prefer, here are a few general tips to guide your ABA data collection:

  • Record objective data: Recording a challenging behavior can cause you to feel frustrated or upset as you try to understand why your child is acting this way. Try to leave your personal feelings out of your recordings and record the behavior you are observing objectively.
  • Write down direct observations: It can be tempting to guess your child’s motivations behind their actions. Write down only what you observe to improve the accuracy of your data.
  • Don’t interpret the behavior: It can be tempting to analyze why your child is acting in a certain way. However, if we knew this motivation, there would be no need to record this data. When recoding, write down what you see or hear and leave your interpretations for a later time.

The ABC's of Behavior & Functions of Behavior

Looking for Behavioral Therapy? Try Early Autism Services Today

If you’re looking for additional ways to help your child improve their behavior, Early Austim Services is here to help. We offer a variety of applied behavior analysis therapy options that can take place either in your home or at one of our centers across the United States, Australia, and India. Our primary goal is to help your child reach their full potential, and we will cater our programs to fit your child’s exact needs.

To take advantage of our services, please schedule a free consultation today!

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