ABA and Autism- How to change behavior with a FREE A-B-C Data Sheet by NoodleNook.Net

ABA and Autism

Problem behaviors in a LIFE Skills, Autism Unit, or SCD/PMLD classroom can be severe.

On top of having to overcome repetitive behaviors, sensory issues, and communication deficits, being successful in documenting, analyzing and intervening with target behaviors can be daunting.

How can you make the most out of bad behavior?

ABA and Autism- How to change behavior with a FREE A-B-C Data Sheet by NoodleNook.Net

Behavior in a Nutshell

First things first, behavior either stems from wanting something, or wanting to get away from something. There are a few outlying behaviors that relate to sensory wants and needs, but for the most part you want to get something or want to get away from something. Sounds like dating in college.

Read more about the functions of behavior here.


What ABA tells us about Behavior

Applied Behavior Analysis has some main principles. They tell us a lot about behavior.

  1. All behavior is learned. I wish I had a little button to put on students that said “It’s you, not me.” The student has behavior that they learned somewhere- and they learned that it works.
  2. All behavior has a function. We talked about this above- you want something or you want to get away from something.
  3. The environment has a direct impact on behavior. I once has a student who went over the edge when we worked in the kitchen. It took me an eternity to get to the root of the behavior, but it turned out that when the ice machine in the fridge would whir, it sent him over the edge. The environment was triggering behavior. Damn ice machine.
  4. Skill deficits impact problem behavior. When a student is lacking in the skills needed to complete a task, it can trigger behavior. And this is in every academic setting, not just Autism Units or LIFE Skills. If you don’t know a good calming sequence, how can you calm yourself when your frustrated?
  5. Consistency is critical. You have to work as a team to address problem behavior. Everyone on that team has to say things the same way, address behaviors the same way, and have the same expectations.

So Where Do I Start?

In order to address a behavior, you have to dissect it first. In order to address the behavior, you need to know why a student is exhibiting the behavior. A simple ABC analysis will help a lot when it comes to uncovering the reason behind the behavior- you can get a FREE printable copy here.

What does the ABC stand for and mean? Read on…

ABA and Autism- How to change behavior with a FREE A-B-C Data Sheet by NoodleNook.Net

Looking at the ABCs

Just to recap now that you are actually looking at some data:
Antecedent: this is the event that sets the wheels in motion for the behavior or what happens right before the behavior occurs. Antecedents can be things in an individual’s external environment like a teacher talking or laughing from a peer. An individual’s internal state can also be an antecedents, like pain from a toothache or feeling sleepy.

Behavior: this is anything that someone does. Most behavior is external and can be measured and observed.

Consequence: this is anything that immediately follows as a result of the behavior. Remember, consequences can be good or bad, and those consequences can either increase the likelihood of a behavior happening again, decrease the likelihood of a behavior happening again, or have no effect on the occurrence of a behavior in the future.

So now what? You must go forth and get data. (Try this Data collection set with guides on how to get it, what it looks like, and a decision chart explaining which data sheet to use for different kinds of behavior.) Bookmark this page, pin it, print it… so that you can come back after you have some data. I suggest at least a week of data, two is better. So, between now and next week, look over the form and track behavior. Then you will start to analyze the function.

Identifying the Function of Behavior

We already talked about behavior in a nutshell, but there are 4 main reasons for a challenging behavior. Again, they will fall into to get something and to get away from something like we talked about earlier, but here are the 4 reasons explained:

  1. To escape or avoid an undesirable situation, like an academic activity or work task.
  2. To get social attention (either positive or negative), like an isolated lunch with the teacher or other students laughing at them.
  3. To get access to a desired activity or item, like eloping to go outside.
  4. To get sensory input, like having a behavior to get restrained because of the sensory touch.

So, as you look at the data you collected, what do you think the function of the behavior is? Have you really looked at the consequence- remember the consequence can be good or bad. Did you only see the bad? And not the secret happy consequence? What really triggered the behavior? Was it what you thought it was? Remember the ABCs.



Replacement Behavior

Now that you have measured and observable behavior, examined the antecedent and consequence, and identified the function (one of the four above)… now what? Well now we want to replace the behavior.
Here is where we design a behavior plans that will provide an appropriate consequences for the behaviors based on the function we identified above of the targeted behavior. Up until now we have been giving someone what they want when they gave us bad behavior. Now we want to set the scene where we only give them what they want when they give us the behavior we want.


If I knew my job was going to pay me if I came to work or not, I may not come that much… but they don’t do that. They withhold the money unless I come to work. If I want the money- I have to show up.


So please remember the replacement behavior as you lay out your behavior plans. You always want to include ways to teach the appropriate alternatives to engaging in the targeted behavior. If a child has been hitting their head on the wall because they have a toothache, what can they do instead to ask for help? What behavior do you want to see?


And don’t forget, the replacement behavior is not negative, like “refrain from hitting head on wall”. That is not a replacement. A replacement would be “point to help visual” or “request to see the nurse”. It is so important to identify and teach a replacement behavior if you really want to reduce the target behavior. Replacement behaviors can include:

  • appropriate requesting
  • how to access attention appropriately
  • how to appropriately communicate wants and/or needs


Most important of all, appropriate replacement behaviors should be reinforced! Without that, all is for naught.


ABA and Autism- How to change behavior with a FREE A-B-C Data Sheet by NoodleNook.Net

Click Through to Read More on Addressing Behavior

Behavior still tends to be the most challenging part of teaching in LIFE Skills or in an Autism Unit. Using ABA to change behavior helps… and it works. That is why ABA and Autism go hand in hand.

We have more in this series on behavior. Please check out the post on Functions of Behavior and also Addressing Behavior to read more about behavior in the Autism classroom. And don’t forget, these tips and tricks work with most students, not just those with Autism!


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  1. Scott Alba

    I like the info here and how it relates to Autism. I am looking more into ABA, so I wanted to say thanks for this info readable and in one place.

  2. Vicki Haynes

    Love the website– very user friendly and whole lots to learn!

  3. New Teach 262

    You have awesome stuff on this site. It’s been very helpful. Thanks!

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