As you know, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is the research-proven, evidence-based process of empowering individuals with autism to change specific behaviors. Such behavioral modification allows children on the spectrum to learn appropriate social and communication skills, and it promotes an increased sense of self-command as well.

The core principle of ABA is that an individual’s behavior is …

  • Lawful (Guided by principles)
  • Observable (We can see it)
  • Measurable (We can count it)

When you take data on a regular basis, you can start to detect consistent patterns over time … and when you recognize those patterns and uncover the motivations behind them, change becomes much easier.

If you’re dealing with maladaptive behaviors such as self-injury and aggression, data sheets help track and therefore understand the forces driving your child’s behavior.

A is for Antecedent

A is for Antecedent

The term “antecedent” refers to what came before the behavior in question. What was happening before your child started engaging in meltdown behaviors?

Put on your detective hat and describe the prior scene as best you can. Take note of sensory details, transitions, interactions … anything that might be significant from your child’s point of view.

Be as specific and concrete as possible. “We walked into a store” is good, but “We walked into a store where there were flashing lights and buzzing alarms sounding” is better.

B is for Behavior

B is for Behavior

“Behavior” refers to what your child did that is problematic. Describe the action in detail. Did your child throw himself on the floor, or cover his ears and scream? What behavior came first, and what came last? At this stage, don’t include your interpretation of the behaviors; simply describe what you saw with your five senses.

C is for Consequence

C is for Consequence

“Consequence” refers to what happened after the maladaptive behavior. After your child had the meltdown, what happened next? Did you buy him the toy that he wanted, or did you leave the store together? Again, simply describe what happened in measurable terms, without judgment.

Once you’ve completed your data sheet, file it in a safe place. Each time your child engages in the behavior of concern, fill out another sheet. After a few days or a week, gather the data sheets together and start looking for trends.

For example, does your child frequently meltdown around lunchtime, or after he’s had a difficult night’s sleep? Does he often get your undivided attention when he screams? Once you’ve spotted a trend, you can work on making changes that reinforce healthy, positive behavior instead.

ABC (Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence) data is a helpful tool for collecting information when conducting direct observations. Which brings us to our final letter:

D is for Data

D is for Data

(aka “How to observe and measure behavior”)

When it comes to changing maladaptive behaviors, data sheets are a key piece of the puzzle. As such, your ABA therapist may ask you to take data on your child’s behavior at home. Data collection will help the clinician to assess patterns, tailor future lessons, and evaluate progress over time. Likewise, your child’s IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) may specify data collection during school hours.

Even if you don’t have access to an in-person clinician, you can still take data and learn from your reporting. FirstPath Autism offers lesson-specific data sheets, so that you can track your child’s progress as you work through our video library.

As we wrote in our blog post Autism Resource: What is ABA Therapy?:

“Data sheets give you spaces to write down what was happening before the given behavior occurred, how you responded to the behavior, and what happened afterward. And once you’ve collected a series of sheets, trends begin to emerge.”

Get access to ABA therapy 24/7

Want to help your child grow and develop through ABA therapy sessions … but feeling stuck because you don’t have access to an in-person clinician? Never fear; you can access our full library of video lessons and use them to learn at home.