The ABCs of ABA

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The abcs of aba

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is a science that utilizes the principles of behavior to determine treatments to improve the socially significant behavior of individuals. ABA practitioners use the ABCs of ABA to design these treatments and implement them. Every ABA practitioner should be well-trained in identifying the ABCs of ABA.

What does A-B-C stand for? 

The A in A-B-C stands for antecedent. An antecedent is anything that changes or occurs in the environment that happens prior to a behavior. When practitioners are observing a behavior of interest, it is not only important to measure the behavior but also to determine what event preceded it. More specifically, if a student engages in aggression, practitioners will record that the individual received a worksheet prior to the behavior. In this example, if it is observed that most of the instances of aggression are preceded by demands being placed, practitioners can use this information to develop interventions to decrease aggression. 

The B in A-B-C represents the behavior. Behavior is anything that a living organism does. The behavior is what practitioners are trying to decrease or increase. In the previous example, aggression would be the behavior of interest. 

Finally, the C in A-B-C represents the consequence. A consequence refers to the event that occurs following the behavior of interest. The word “consequence” can have negative connotations and sometimes has been noted to be used interchangeably with punishment. However, this is incorrect because a consequence is simply what happens after the behavior, positive or negative. If, after the student engaged in aggression and the teacher removed the worksheet, the removal of the task would be the consequence. 


The Importance of Identifying the ABCs 

Identifying the ABCs of ABA in an event allows practitioners to hypothesize about the function, or reason, the behavior is occurring. By determining the function, practitioners can develop individualized strategies to reduce maladaptive behaviors. This process is called an ABC analysis. 

The first step of conducting an ABC analysis is identifying the behavior the practitioners are targeting for decrease. Once the behavior is identified and defined, the antecedent and consequence can be recorded. Referring to the example of the student engaging in aggression, the most common antecedent is a task being placed and the most common consequence is the teacher removing the task. Using the information gathered from the ABC analysis, a practitioner can hypothesize that the student is engaging in aggression to escape from the task. A treatment plan can be implemented where the teacher continues to place the demand of the worksheet even after the occurrence of aggression. This would combat the escape component of what is maintaining the behavior of aggression. An antecedent intervention could also be implemented where the teacher can let the student know prior to the presentation of the work that once they finish the worksheet, they can receive a toy or a break. This may increase the motivation of completing the work and decrease aggression. An ABC analysis takes several days to be conducted, and examples such as this one is not always as clear. Sometimes behaviors seem to “come out of nowhere.” If you are a practitioner of ABA, this is never the case. ABA practitioners know that the universe is lawful, and behaviors do not happen spontaneously by completing an ABC analysis, the reasons behind why behaviors are occurring can be hypothesized. By determining the potential reason for maintaining behaviors, practitioners can develop a more cohesive and individualized treatment plan for their clients. 

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2014). Applied behavior analysis. Harlow: Pearson. 

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