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The ABCs of Data Collection

ABC data collection is a tool used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to record behaviors. The use of ABC data extends to teachers, parents, or anyone looking to better capture and monitor behaviors over time. Using ABC data can connect what we assume is happening in the environment with reality. As parents and providers we observe and hypothesize changes; however, data collection is essential to confirming our intuition. When using ABC data, we can more objectively view the environment without letting our anecdotal experiences interfere.

ABC data collection can be used for:

  • Assessing behaviors
  • Assisting in identifying the function of behaviors (why behaviors happen)
  • Tracking progress
  • Documenting behavior incidences

Here’s a scenario: Gill is an ABA therapist working with Sam. Gill notices that Sam appears to be more easily frustrated, which results in yelling and sometimes aggression. To confirm this behavior change and provide evidence to his BCBA, Gill starts collecting ABC data.

The breakdown of ABC data:Autism ABC Data Collection

  • Antecedent — the events, actions, or circumstances that occur before a behavior
    • Example: At the end of a play break, Gill prompted Sam to put the pickup truck he was playing with in the bin with the other vehicles.
  • Behavior — the behavior that results from the antecedent
    • Example: Sam shouted, “No!” and threw the pickup truck across the room
  • Consequences — The actions or response that follows the behavior
    • Example: Gill continued to pick up toys and directed Sam to, “pick up the truck.”

When collecting ABC data, there are a few necessary things to take note of. First, it’s important that we only take note of observable behaviors. It’s important to ask, “can someone else read this and know what the scene looked like?” We may think we know what someone else is thinking or feeling, but we do not want to project our assumptions onto the data collection as internal thoughts and feelings cannot be observed by all.

Similarly, ABC data should be recorded with the most objective terms possible. For example, recording “Sam got angry when Gill made him pick up” is less objective than stating, “Sam shouted, ‘no!’ when Gill directed him to pick up”. The term “angry” can be different for everyone. For some, anger may look like Sam’s behaviors, while others demonstrate a deep sigh or be completely silent. Noting these differences may help parents and providers better interpret the scenarios they weren’t present for.

Lastly, when collecting ABC data, it’s essential to record all observations as soon as possible to prevent any errors in their recollection.

With ABC data, changes can be made to the environment to reduce triggers for behaviors or better meet the needs of children. In Sam’s scenario, Gill can use ABC data from the sample above and collaborate with a BCBA to help Sam transition from play to work. ABC data collection is just one of the tools that makes ABA successful and can assist others in understanding their child’s behaviors.

— This post was authored by Lexys Sillin, RBT

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