Often times when we are attempting to gather information about a behavior we take data. One method of data collection, referred to as ABC (antecedent, behavior, and consequence) data, gives a descriptive account of what is occurring in the environment before and after a behavior occurs. This information is extremely helpful to determine what the FUNCTION of the behavior may be (or, what consistently happens in the environment to maintain this behavior).

Let’s look at an example.

Say we have kiddo named Stevie. Stevie engages in tantrums several times throughout the day. He screams, cries, pushes chairs, rips paper, runs to the back of the room and refuses to do anything or listen to anybody. Because this type of behavior is extremely disruptive to Stevie and other students’ opportunity to learn, we want to look at why it is occurring to eventually determine what we can do to decrease this behavior. To help us determine WHY Stevie continues to engage in tantruming, we begin taking ABC data.

A) What occurs IMMEDIATELY before the behavior?

B) What does the behavior look like?

C) What occurs IMMEDIATELY after the behavior occurs?

Lets say, in the case of Stevie, we see that immediately before the tantrum, he is given a task to complete by his teacher. Upon receiving the task, he begins engaging in tantrum behavior – screaming and rips up the paper. After this behavior, the teacher says “Stevie! Don’t be silly. Don’t rip your papers please,” and removes the task. This seems to be the pattern of events (antecedent, behavior, consequence) almost each time.

From this data, we gather that Stevie continues to engage in tantrum behavior for attention from his teacher. Is this a safe conclusion to make? What else occurs after the tantrum? It is EXTREMELY important to note that upon the teacher’s attention, the task is also removed. It could be that the behavior continues to occur because history shows that when Stevie engages in a tantrum, he doesn’t have to do his work. Data can be very misleading if we aren’t careful. To avoid drawing false conclusions it is important to pay attention to ALL variables in the environment. It could very well be that attention is what Stevie is looking for when he engages in tantrums. It could also be that Stevie is engaging in tantrums to escape the task.

If you think this situation is happening with your data, consider using an indirect assessment like a questionnaire such as the QABF (Questions About Behavioral Function) learn more here and download here.