The ABC’s of Applied Behavior Analysis

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we are doing a special set of blog posts here at Paxton Campus!  It’s an exciting time of the year for us, seeing places all over the world “light it up blue” to show support and spread awareness for some of the students we are fortunate enough to serve every day.  Check back later this month for more great posts in honor of Autism Awareness!

Here at The Aurora School, we use the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis to serve our clients needs. Applied Behavior Analysis (or ABA) is a science devoted to the understanding and improvement of human behavior.

Or, as I like to put it, we make data-driven decisions to drastically improve our students’ lives. So, as I’m sure you can imagine, we think ABA is just too good to keep to ourselves! ABA can be used to help people with special needs, but it can also be used to change the behavior of your spouse (wouldn’t it be great if your husband would finally take out the trash without being asked?), your friends, your co-workers, your in-laws (!!!) and even your own behavior! We believe that behavior is observable and measurable, and that behavior can be altered by changing what’s happening in the environment. We want to share this knowledge with everyone in the community, starting with the basics: The ABC’s of ABA!

A stands for antecedents. In other words, what’s happening right before the behavior of interest? Let’s use the example of a child who talks out in class. Was work presented? Did you turn away? What were other peers doing? The antecedents can be a huge part of the puzzle when you’re trying to figure out why someone is behaving in a certain way.

B stands for behavior. Here, you’ll note what behavior is occurring. From the previous example, talking out would be the behavior.

C stands for Consequences. The consequence is whatever happens immediately after a behavior. Did you ignore the child? Did you scold the child? Did you take away the work? Did other peers talk to the child? Any of these elements can help you figure out WHY the child is talking out… and, therefore, how you can fix it.

So, now that we know the ABC’s, let’s look at a few examples of how changing the environment can change behavior:

Example 1: During class, a teacher is presenting. Jack continues to talk to his classmate, Joe, even though the teacher is trying to teach. Everyone else in the class is paying attention. ?!

Antecedent: Teacher presenting.

Behavior: Jack talking.

Consequence: Joe listens and responds. The teacher turns around and scolds Jack.

*In this example, Jack received no attention from the teacher until he began talking. Let’s look at what can happen with a few small changes:

The teacher decided to move Joe to the other side of the room.

A: The teacher presents to the class.

B: Jack begins to talk.

C: No peers respond (since his friend, Joe, is too far away), and the teacher ignores Jack and continues to teach.

In this example, Jack receives absolutely no attention. Therefore, it is safe to assume that his motivation for talking out is gone!

Example 2: Whenever I see a bag of chips, I stop and eat the whole thing! (Seriously, it’s like an addiction!)

A: I see the bag of chips in my pantry.

B: I eat the whole bag.

C: The chips taste delicious! But I know this wasn’t a healthy choice.

This problem could easily be remedied through an antecedent strategy. You guessed it… don’t buy chips. BUT, chips are my roommate’s favorite food, so that’s not an option for me. Let’s look at a different way I could remedy this problem by changing my environment.

A: I put a visual representation of my fitness goals next to the chips in the pantry. Some people choose pictures of themselves, others may write a specific weight goal, or still others may choose a calorie goal.

B: I go to get chips and I see the visual. I decide not to eat the chips.

C: I put a dollar in my “good decision” jar, which can be cashed in for new clothes every week!

By changing the environment and adding a reinforcing consequence for a good decision, I have changed a bad habit!

Example 3: A young child with autism tantrums whenever he’s transitioning, even if he enjoys the place he is going.

A: Mom says, “Time to go to the store. Let’s get in the car!” and begins to have her son put on his shoes.

B: The child falls to the floor, crying and screaming.

C: After spending several minutes trying to convince the child to come, the mom finally has to leave her son with a caregiver so she can get the chores done in time for dinner.

Children with autism often have difficulties with transitions. Using ABA methods, we help our students ease into transitions with a few simple manipulations of the environment.

A: At the beginning of the day, the mom shows her son a visual schedule of the day’s activities. This schedule has both a visual image and a written image. This time, before going to the store, the mother shows her son the visual schedule showing that the store is the next place on his schedule.

B: The child puts on his shoes and walks out the door

C: The mother gives her son his favorite toy to play with once he has successfully transitioned to the car.

By showing her son what to expect throughout the day, the mother decreased his anxiety about transitions. Further, she reinforced his successful transition! Now, transitions are fun and exciting!

So there it is, the basics of ABA, in ABC format! Throughout the week, try to be aware of the ABC’s happening in your environment. These strategies can make a huge impact on your work, family, and relationship with friends.

I leave you now with one of my favorite quotes, “That there could be a science of behavior, of what we do, of who we are? How could you resist that?!”—Donald Bear.

Check back every week to learn more about ABA, The Aurora School, and Paxton Campus because… how could you resist that?!


Blog Post Written by Katie Wilcox, M.A.


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