Every member of the student’s teams can and should be part of the functional behavioral assessment process to assist in identifying patterns and trends in behavior. How information is gathered may be different for each person collecting the data and depending on the complexity of the situation. One format involves directly observing and recording situational factors surrounding a problem behavior using an assessment tool called ABC data collection. An ABC data form is an assessment tool used to gather information that should evolve into a behavior implementation plan. ABC refers to:
- Antecedent- the events, action, or circumstances that occur before a behavior.
- Behavior- The behavior.
- Consequences- The action or response that follows the behavior.
The following is an example of ABC data collection. This ABC is considered a direct observation format because you must be directly observing the behavior when it occurs. Typically, it is a format that is used when an external observer is available who has the time and ability to observe and document behaviors during specified periods of the day. It is time and personnel intensive. From this data, we can see that when Joe is asked to end an activity he is enjoying (we know that he enjoys playing computer games), he screams, refuses to leave, and ignores. We also can see that the response to Joe’s refusal consists mostly of empty threats. If we follow Joe throughout the day, we may find that he is asked repeatedly to follow directions. In addition, the data reveals that Joe’s staff and family use threats that are not followed through. Joe has learned that persistence, ignoring, and refusal will wear staff and parents down.
Example of A-B-C Data Collection - 1
|Staff/Parents ask Joe to stop playing on the computer.||Joe screams, "NO!" and refuses to leave the computer.||Staff/Parents tell Joe to leave the computer again.|
|Staff/Parents tell Joe to leave the computer.||Joe again refuses to leave.||Staff/Parents start counting to 10 as a warning to get off the computer.|
|Staff/Parents start counting to 10 as a warning to get off the computer.||Joe does not move from the computer station.||Staff/Parents finish counting to 10 and again warns him to get off the computer.|
|Staff/Parents finish counting to 10 and again warns him to get off the computer.||Joe stays at the computer and refuses to leave.||Staff/Parents threaten that Joe lose computer privileges in the future.|
|Staff/Parents threaten that Joe will lose computer privileges in the future.||Joe ignores and continues working on the computer.||Staff/Parents count to 10 again and again threaten future computer use.|
|Staff/Parents count to 10 again and again threaten future computer use||Joe ignores and continues computer use.||Staff/Parents become angry and leave the room.|
While it is critical to look at both the antecedents and the form of the behavior, it is imperative to examine the consequence portion of the data collection. Examine the consequence portion of the data collection form when identifying those responses that both increase and decrease problem behavior. For example, if attention seems to increase problem behavior, then it may be important to teach the individual to get attention in a more appropriate fashion or to use attention for positive behaviors. If escape from a difficult task seems to be a consistent theme in the consequence section, then it may be important to either change the task or to teach the child to ask for help. And we may choose to use downtime as a reinforcer. If the behavior seems to serve a sensory function, then we should assess the child’s sensory challenges and build in sensory programming proactively. Our responses should always focus on strengthening desired behavior, promoting the use of the replacement behavior, and decreasing the occurrence of the problem behavior (Sugai, et. al., 2000). An important aspect of this prospect is understanding those responses or consequences that maintain, and either enhance or decrease behavior over time. We have to understand why the behavior keeps occurring. What is the individuals’ motivation?
Assessment is the key to developing an effective program and tracking the progress of individuals. Yet there are barriers in collecting the data such as time, remembering to document during a crisis situation, and being consistent. We can overcome these barriers by planning, matching collection strategies to the setting, and simplifying the data collection chart. Remember anyone (e.g., parents, educators, teachers, support personnel, administrators) can take the data when given clear direction and parameters. Here is an example taken from what Joe’s parents know about his situation at home using the ABC approach. Notice the responses have already been established on the form. These are the responses that are typically identified as motivating behavior. While this system may be more efficient, you will note that much of the richness of the narrative is missing.
Example of A-B-C Data Collection - 2
|Parents ask Joe to stop playing on the computer.||Joe screams, "NO!" and refuses to leave the computer.|
|Parents tell Joe to leave the computer.||Joe again refuses to leave.|
|Parents start counting to 10 as a warning to get off the computer.||Joe does not move from the computer station.|
|Parents finish counting to 10 and again warns him to get off the computer.||Joe stays at the computer and refuses to leave.|
|Parents threaten that Joe will lose computer privileges in the future.||Joe ignores and continues working on the computer.|
|Parents count to 10 again and again threaten future computer use||Joe ignores and continues computer use.|
Once accurate and sufficient data is collected, planning, modifications, instruction, and feedback are easier, more valid, and effective. ABC data collection can be used for all individuals with behavior issues at home and in school, not just those on the autism spectrum.
Sugai, G., Horner, R.H., Dunlap, G., Hieneman, M., Nelson, C.M., Scott, T., Liaupsin, C., Sailor, W., Turnbull, A.P., Turnbull III, H.R.; Wickham, D., Wilcox, B., and Ruef, M. (2000). Applying positive behavior support and functional behavioral assessment in schools. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 2(3), 131-143.
Dubie M. & Pratt, C. (2022). Observing behavior using a-b-c data. Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/observing-behavior-using-a-b-c-data.html.