Topics in ABA: ABC Data

May 18, 2021

If you’re interested in implementing some ABA techniques in your daily life, then data collection is one of the best places to start. In order to implement the most effective strategies in therapy, consistent and reliable data must be collected. Without reliable data, we would not be able to objectively determine whether an intervention was effective. It is because of this need for strong data that BCBAs will spend a lot of time observing, defining, and recording all forms of data related to a client’s behavior. After all this data is recorded, it is thoroughly analyzed in order to determine the behavior’s cause.

In today’s blog, we will introduce you to ABC data, which is a simple, informative, and easy-to-use form of data collection that you can try at home. In this context, ABC stands for antecedent (what is happening before the behavior), behavior (the action we’re trying to learn more about), and consequence (what is happening after the behavior takes place). ABC data collection is as simple as writing down a quick description of each section for any behavior of interest.

As an example, let’s say a child keeps getting sent to his room for throwing his game pieces while playing Candy Land. The parents, who are eager for the behavior to stop, begin collecting ABC data to get a better perspective on exactly what is happening. The next time the behavior takes place, the parents fill in the ABCs using a simple three-part table. The result would look something like this:

Family is playing Candy Land together.
Alex throws his game piece off the board.
Alex is removed from the game and sent to his room.

When looking at the table above, we could draw conclusions about Alex’s misbehavior from this single ABC data point, but we could make much more accurate inferences if we have numerous examples. Let’s imagine the parents keep collecting data like this over the next several game nights, and the ABC charts continue to follow the same trends as the table above. With this data in hand, what can we now say about Alex’s behavior?

To start, we might be able to identify a clear source of positive reinforcement in column C. If Alex throwing his game piece reliably gets him out of playing Candy Land, he is more likely to continue throwing game pieces during games. What about the data in column A? While a behavior’s consequences may reveal what reinforces it, the antecedents can tell you the situations in which the behavior tends to occur. In our example, Alex’s parents learned something that may not have been apparent to them before their data collection, namely that his behavior is more likely to occur while playing Candy Land than it is to occur playing other games. They might recognize that Alex’s behavior is because he gets frustrated playing that specific game, and they realize that the consequence of removing him from the game is actually a source of positive reinforcement, not a punishment. By getting to leave the game, and being sent to his room to do something else, Alex is far more likely to engage in this behavior in the future. Now that Alex’s parents have this information, they will be able to more effectively deal with this behavior the next time it occurs.

If you are interested in learning more about ABC data, or other forms of data collection, your child’s BCBA will be more than happy to meet and create an individualized plan best suited to address your specific situation and concerns. Follow us on social media for more great content, and stay up-to-date on the latest blogs for more topics like this and all things new at Golden State! Have a great day!