When starting applied behavior analysis therapy (ABA) with your child, you are introduced to a whole new world of terms and acronyms which can be very confusing. An extremely common acronym is ABC or ABC data. ABC refers to a behavior sequence and stands for Antecedents Behaviors and Consequences. Taking data on the ABCs is important because it helps your treatment team understand why problem behavior occurs. It is also important to help us track the effectiveness of behavior interventions. Below we break down two of three components of the ABCs; the antecedents and the consequents.
The term antecedent refers to anything that occurs immediately before a specific behavior. You may want to know why your child is hitting others. You would first look at what is happening in your child’s environment immediately before they hit someone. Did they ask for something and were told "No"? Were they told to transition to a new activity, such as turn off the TV and come to the table for dinner? Did a sudden and loud noise happen? Once we know the common antecedents to problem behavior, we can better predict when problem behavior will occur.
We know that problem behavior is more predictable when we know the common antecedents. Therefore, we can also put in place specific strategies to address them. Antecedent intervention strategies increase the likelihood appropriate replacement behaviors will occur instead of the disruptive behavior. (Antecedent interventions can be used with many behaviors, such as elopement, picky eating, or potty training strategies.)
Basically, the strategies replace the problem behavior with an appropriate behavior that obtains the same outcome. For example, if they are trying to obtain attention with disruptive behavior, you might schedule in several times throughout their day when they receive high quality attention from caregivers, siblings, or peers.
However, antecedent interventions alone do not have the greatest impact on behavior change. Antecedent interventions are more effective when combined with consequence strategies.
Consequents or consequences are the things that happen immediately after the specific behavior. Most people think of punishment when they hear the term consequence. In ABA, consequences can be rewarding or punishing. They can increase the likelihood of that same behavior in the future, or it can decrease the same behavior in the future. If you want a child to engage in a behavior more often we want to reward, or reinforce, behaviors. For behaviors you want to decrease and occur less often in the future, we would punish behaviors. Again, in ABA, punishment takes on a different meaning. For example, if the child is hitting in order to get a movie turned on, we would no longer turn the movie on when the child hit. We would only turn on the movie when they engaged in a more appropriate behavior, like saying, “movie”. In this example, hitting no longer earns the child the movie (ie. decreases the hitting through punishment). The child only gets the movie when the replacement behavior of saying "movie" is used (ie. increases the response of saying "movie" through reinforcement).
Like antecedent interventions, the consequent strategies identified for your child will be individualized for your child’s specific behaviors and needs. The antecedents and consequences will continue to be tracked by the therapy team in order to monitor behavior change and ensure the effectiveness of the interventions in place.
Sources for this article:
The IRIS Center | Antecedent-based Intervention
National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders | Evidence-Based Practice Brief: Antecedent-Based Interventions
The IRIS Center | Consequence-based Intervention