Collect Data to Support Decision-Making
By Matt Alcala, MA, LPA, BCBA Thousands of treatments for autism exist. It can be really difficult to tell whether an intervention is worth trying. It can even be difficult to tell whether something is working after it has been implemented. Sometimes a therapeutic intervention will show a positive change in learning right away. Sometimes the changes can happen so gradually it is difficult to notice on a day-to-day level. Some of the interventions can have no impact or even a negative impact. Every intervention needs to be tailored to the individual, and having objective information can help us make better decisions and improve the impact of teaching procedures. An effective way to evaluate a program’s impact on an individual’s learning and behavioral patterns is to take behavioral data.
Set Goals and Define Terms The first step in taking behavioral data is deciding what to monitor. Start with outlining some goals for the individual. Is the goal to be more independent in self-care? To have fewer behavioral challenges in school and at home? To increase communication? To work on safety skills in the community? Choose observable behaviors to track based on the desired outcome. For example, if the goal is to have less disruption at school, it would be helpful to define exactly what is happening in the classroom. If the student is leaving the room, verbally refusing to do work, and having meltdowns, then these could be the behaviors that a team tracks. Behaviors should be defined in directly observable and objective terms so that everyone can take data consistently. The targets of an intervention should be clearly defined at the outset to reduce confusion and speculation. For example, let’s say the goal of a program is to increase communication while decreasing behaviors associated with the frustration caused by a lack of communication skills. Here are some definitions you could use: • Request using Picture Exchange Communication: Locating the photo exchange book, pulling the photo from the choice board, extending the photo of the requested item to the listener and waiting for a response • Tantrum: screaming, flopping on the floor, or stomping feet These response definitions are simple and could be interpreted by most anybody who would need to take data. Consistency across caregivers in understanding the target behaviors is critical.
Good Data Provides Context and Can Point to Potential Solutions There are many forms of data collection. A common type of descriptive data is ‘ABC data’, or antecedent, behavior, and consequence data. It can provide a lot of information about how often the behaviors are happening, while also providing information about the conditions before and after the behavior. Antecedents: What circumstances or actions are occurring before the behavior occurs. Sometimes this is called a trigger. Stick to what you can see! Behavior: What the individual did. Consequence: The response of others to the behaviors. How did it resolve? The context of behaviors is important, and looking at the broader trends can reveal some patterns. Below are some examples of ABC data. Antecedent
Doing independent math work in school
Shoving materials off desk and yelling “I hate math!”
Someone comes over, helps him clean up and provides help with the work
Told to quit playing video games.
Ignores and refuses to turn off the game console
Parents turn off games and the child is upset for 15 minutes.
Parent is busy cooking dinner, child is playing in the living room
Tantrum, screaming, stomping
Parent approaches, consoles, and says “inside voice please”
This data provides some clues as to what might be maintaining the behavioral patterns seen in this child. It can also lead to potential solutions. In the first example, the schoolwork may need to be adapted or the core skills reassessed or the student may need more intensive instruction on the front end with new materials. The student also might need a functional way to ask for assistance, such as a help card or raising his hand, which can be taught with a social story. Being on task with schoolwork could also be met with a lot of praise and appropriate breaks. Sometimes difficult situations will arise again and again. Having difficulty with the transition away from videogames or other highly preferred activities might sound familiar to some parents. Structuring this transition using a written or visual schedule and/ or a timer to indicate when time is up might make this transition go more smoothly by making it predictable. Seeing the patterns in the consequences is also informative. In the final example, it might be that the child is having a tantrum
8 • The Spectrum, Winter 2017