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Antecedent-Based Interventions (ABI)

Arrangement of events or circumstances that precede an activity or demand in order to increase the occurrence of a behavior or lead to the reduction of the challenging/interfering behaviors

Evidence Based
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Steps for Implementation

Antecedent-based interventions (ABI) are a collection of practices in which environmental modifications are used to change the conditions in a setting that prompt a learner with ASD to engage in an interfering behavior. The goal of ABI is to identify the conditions in the setting that are reinforcing the interfering behavior and then to modify the environment or activity so that the environmental conditions no longer elicit the interfering behavior.

Step 1. Identifying the Interfering Behavior

In Step 1, teachers/practitioners identify an interfering behavior for a learner with autism that they would like to decrease. In most cases, the interfering behavior is one that is interfering with learning and development (e.g., self-stimulating, repetitive, self-injurious, stereotypical). Therefore, teachers/practitioners complete a high-quality functional behavioral assessment (FBA) to identify the function of the interfering behavior and select an ABI strategy that addresses the function of the behavior and can be used to decrease the interfering behavior. Please refer to Functional Behavioral Assessment: Steps for Implementation (National Professional Development Center on ASD, 2008) to acquire more in-depth information about the following FBA strategies.

  1. Teachers/practitioners use direct observation methods that generally include:
    1. Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence data charts: A-B-C data charts help team members determine what happens right before the behavior (the antecedent), the behavior that occurs, and what happens immediately after the behavior (the consequence). These data provide insight into why the learner may be engaging in a particular behavior.
    2. Scatterplots: Scatterplots help team members determine:
      1. the possible functions of the behavior,
      2. when the behavior is occurring, and
      3. times of the day when an intervention might be implemented to reduce the interfering behavior.
  2. Teachers/practitioners use direct assessment results to identify:
    1. where the behavior is happening;
    2. with whom the behavior is occurring;
    3. when the behavior is happening;
    4. activities during which the behavior occurs;
    5. what other students are doing when the behavior starts;
    6. what teachers/adults are doing when the behavior starts;
    7. proximity of other students, teachers, and/or adults;
    8. the noise level in the environment;
    9. the number of individuals in the area;
    10. other environmental conditions (e.g., lighting, door open/closed); and
    11. the function of the behavior (i.e., to get or obtain something—obtaining internal stimulation, wanting something because it feels good, obtaining attention, obtaining activities or objects; or to escape or avoid—obtaining internal stimulation, not wanting something because it feels bad, escaping or avoiding attention, avoiding tasks or activities).
  3. Teachers/practitioners develop a hypothesis statement for the interfering behavior that includes:
    1. the setting events (i.e., the environment or conditions in which the behavior occurs), immediate antecedents, and immediate consequences that surround the interfering behavior;
    2. a restatement and refinement of the description of the interfering behavior that is occurring; and
    3. the function the behavior serves (i.e., get/obtain, escape/avoid).
  4. Teachers/practitioners identify an overall goal for the learner that will be accomplished as a result of the intervention.

Step 2. Collecting Baseline Data

Once the interfering behavior is identified, teachers/practitioners collect baseline data to determine how often the learner with ASD is currently engaging in the interfering behavior. Baseline data give teachers/practitioners a starting point from which they can evaluate whether the interfering behavior decreases as a result of ABI.

  1. Teachers/practitioners measure a learner’s engagement in the interfering behavior before implementing ABI by collecting:
    1. Frequency data: Frequency data measures how often a learner engages in a particular behavior. Event sampling, a method for collecting data on behaviors that occur infrequently, is used to record every instance of the interfering behavior. Data are then used to identify a potential pattern in a learner’s behavior over a period of days or weeks.
    2. Duration data: Duration data records how long a learner engages in a particular behavior during a class, activity, or treatment session. For example, a teacher might collect data on how long a learner with ASD engages in hand mouthing during math class. 2. Teachers/practitioners collect baseline data for a minimum of four days before implementing ABI.
  2. Teachers/practitioners collect baseline data in numerous settings and/or activities.

    It often is useful to have more than one practitioner collect baseline data over the course of several days to compare findings. Moreover, by collecting data in multiple settings, teachers/practitioners can potentially recognize patterns of behavior. For example, does the learner engage in the interfering behavior more often in one setting than another? This kind of information helps teachers/practitioners identify activities or settings that can be modified using ABI strategies.

Step 3. Implementing ABI

In Step 3, teachers/practitioners identify and implement ABI strategies that directly address the function of the interfering behavior to prevent its future occurrence.

  1. Teachers/practitioners identify one of the following ABI strategies that directly addresses the function of the interfering behavior:
    1. Using learner preferences
    2. Changing schedules/routines
    3. Implementing pre-activity interventions
    4. Using choice-making
    5. Altering how instruction is delivered
    6. Enriching the environment
  2. Teachers/practitioners implement the selected ABI strategy by creating a lesson plan that includes:
    1. weekly objectives for the learner with ASD that will lead to a decrease in an interfering behavior;
    2. a statement of the strategy and what the teacher will do (e.g., adapting instructions for assignments); and
    3. the materials needed to implement the ABI strategy.
  3. Teachers/practitioners ignore the interfering behavior when it occurs.
  4. Extinction often is used in conjunction with ABI strategies. With this evidence-based practice, teachers/practitioners no longer provide reinforcement for the interfering behavior by ignoring it, which eventually leads to a decrease in or elimination of the interfering behavior. Please refer to Extinction: Steps for Implementation (National Professional Development Center on ASD, 2008) for more information about extinction.
  5. Teachers/practitioners provide learners with reinforcement each time they:
    1. do not engage in the interfering behavior, and
    2. complete the weekly objective.

Please refer to Positive Reinforcement: Steps for Implementation (National Professional Development Center on ASD, 2008) for more information about reinforcement.

Step 4. Monitoring Learner Progress

  1. Teachers/practitioners use progress monitoring data to evaluate whether the interfering behavior is decreasing as result of the intervention. The same data collection sheets that were used to collect baseline data can be used to track learner progress.
  2. Teachers/practitioners use progress monitoring data to adjust intervention strategies if the interfering behavior does not decrease.
  3. If the interfering behavior is not decreasing, teachers/practitioners must try to identify potential reasons for this. The following questions may be helpful during this problem-solving process.
    1. Is the interfering behavior well defined? That is, is it observable and measurable?
    2. Are ABI strategies being implemented consistently by all staff?
    3. Do the ABI strategies directly address the function of the behavior identified during the FBA?

Research and Outcomes

Research Summary

Age Range: 0-22

Skills: Communication, social, play, school-readiness, pre-academic/academic, adaptive/self-help, challenging/interfering behavior, mental health

Settings: Home, school, community

Evidence Rating: Evidence Based

The information found in the Research Summary table is updated following a literature review of new research and these ages, skills, and settings reflects information from this review.

Outcomes Matrix

The Outcomes Matrix shows outcome areas by age for which this evidence based practice is effective
Age: 0-5 6-14 15-22
Academic/Pre-academic Yes Yes Yes
Challenging/Interfering Behavior Yes Yes Yes
Communication Yes Yes Yes
Joint Attention
Mental Health Yes Yes
Play Yes Yes
School Readiness Yes Yes
Social Yes Yes Yes
More about Intervention Outcomes

Antecedent-based interventions (ABI) include a variety of modifications that are made to the environment/context in an attempt to change or shape a learner’s behavior. ABIs are typically implemented after conducting a functional behavior assessment which can assist in identifying the function of an interfering behavior as well as the environmental conditions that may have become linked to a behavior over time. Once factors in the environment that may be reinforcing interfering behavior have been identified, ABIs are implemented to modify the environment or activity so that the factor no longer elicits the interfering behavior. In addition to targeting challenging behaviors, ABI can also be used to increase the occurrence of desired behaviors or skills. Common ABI procedures include: 1) modifying educational activities, materials, or schedules, 2) incorporating learner choice into learner activities/materials, 3) preparing learners ahead of time for upcoming activities, 4) varying the format, level of difficulty, or order of instruction during educational activities, 5) enriching the environment to provide additional cues or access to additional materials, and 6) modifying prompting and reinforcement schedules and delivery. ABI strategies often are used in conjunction with other evidence-based practices such as functional communication training, extinction, and reinforcement (Steinbrenner, et al., 2020).