What is ABC Data in Special Education?
ABC Data is one of the many abbreviated terms thrown around in the world of special education. Let's talk about WHAT it is and how exactly to take EFFECTIVE ABC data. ABC stands for Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence.
When to Use ABC Data
When a student is having a specific behavior happen a lot during the school day or week, it can benefit the special education team to figure out WHY the problem behavior is occurring. This is when you should collect ABC data. It would also be part of the IEP process for carrying out a Functional Behavior Assessment on a student.
The behavior might be attention-seeking, oral-seeking or just a very challenging behavior that you need to get a handle on and replace.
Here is what you are looking for when you gather ABC data:
Antecedent: What happens right BEFORE the behavior takes place?
Behavior: What is the behavior?
Consequence: What do you do immediately following the behavior?
How to You Take ABC Data?
Here's how I effectively take ABC data in my special education classroom:
1. Decide what student behavior needs to be replaced.
The point of taking ABC data is to replace a problem behavior and figure out WHY that behavior is happening. For example, if a student runs out of music class most of the time, you would want to understand WHY and how you can help them stay in class to be successful.
2. Create a data sheet for the problem behavior
Discuss with your special education team the behavior that you want some more specific data on and create data sheets to use. You could start with a Scatterplot Data Sheet to gain some more knowledge about average days and times that the behavior is happening. It is available in this large data sheet bundle that should help you be set for the year! Simply mark a symbol such as a checkmark in the box during the time of day that the behavior occurs.
After this, you may want to move towards a data sheet in which you track what specifically happens BEFORE the behavior takes place (the antecedent) and what you do in response to the behavior (the consequence) to see what is working and not working for the student. Here is a FREE ABC Data Collection Sheet to use from my friend Dr. Chris Reeve over at Autism Classroom Resources.
3. Discuss the Problem Behavior with the Student's Special Education Team
All of the members of the student's special education team should be aware and take data on the problem behavior when they see it occur. This means notifying their OTs, PTs, SLPs, paras, counselors, etc. You may end up taking data for a few days up to a few weeks before you are able to meet as a team and analyze the ABC data that you collected.
How Long Should You Collect ABC Data in Special Education?
How long you collect the data for a behavior honestly varies on each situation. You want to make sure that you have collected data for an adequate amount of time. If you take ABC data for 2 weeks and the behavior only happens twice, you may want to continue for longer to analyze the results easier. If you take data for 3 days and have over 200 points of data, you may have enough to analyze and figure out a solution.
How to Analyze ABC Data
Analyzing the ABC data that you collected is just as important as taking it. You will now want to look for any trends in your findings: does the behavior happen mostly in the mornings or afternoons; does it happen during a certain subject or when a certain demand is placed on the student? Look closely at the antecedent data for this.
Then look for what data is taken for the consequence. This doesn't necessarily mean what consequence you give them; it means that once the behavior takes place, how do YOU respond? When they run-do you chase them? When they hit, do you send them home? Trying out different responses to the problem behavior, is when your ABC data will become interesting and help you figure out how to change the behavior.
How to Replace a Problem Behavior
In order to replace a problem behavior for a student, you need to figure out what makes sense for them to do instead. For example-if you are looking at an oral-seeking behavior, could the student chew gum or blow bubbles during that time of day? Does he or she possibly need some more heavy work before starting their assignment during that time of the day so that they don't chew on their hand?
If a student is running away from you, instead of chasing them down the hall, try walking slowly instead with still keeping eyes on them. Do they perhaps like the attention that they get when you are “chasing them?” Does the running behavior decrease when you STOP chasing them? This is why taking ABC data can be so effective because it allows you to be more aware of what is working and what is not working.
More Activities to Help Decrease Student Behavior
As special educators, we know that different unexpected behaviors can arise throughout the school year with students. My best advice is to make sure that you have procedures in place from the start of the year that can prevent certain unknowns.
For example: Make sure that you are using visuals with students so they know what is coming next in their day, practice discussing good choices vs. poor choices during morning meeting together and give students choices in their day. Sometimes these minor things can make all the difference in behavior!