Behavorial Intervention Function and Antecedents

What are Antecedents?
In applied behavior analysis (ABA), we talk a lot about the events that precede and follow target behaviors. An antecedent is something that happens immediately before a behavior. Similarly, a setting event is something that happened some time (not immediately) before the behavior. Setting events might have carryover effects on someone’s behavior. For example, an antecedent could be telling a child to do his or her homework, which then results in the child engaging in aggression. A setting event could be not getting enough sleep the night before. Therefore, the child may be tired, making aggression more likely to occur.

Taking antecedent-behavior-consequence (ABC) data provides information about what tends to evoke problem behaviors. When analyzing this data, you can identify the hypothesized function of a behavior. Read our previous post about the 4 functions of behavior for more information. Once you have identified a potential function, you can develop antecedent interventions to decrease the occurrence of the behavior.

What are Antecedent Interventions?
Based on a hypothesized function of a behavior, you can develop antecedent interventions. The goal of these interventions is to alter the environment so the targeted problematic behaviors are less likely to occur. Many antecedent interventions don’t completely prevent the problem behaviors from happening. Instead, they decrease the likelihood of occurrence.

Studies such as Haley et al. (2010) and Kruger et al. (2015) have shown that the use of antecedent interventions significantly reduce the likelihood of problematic behaviors. These interventions are even more effective when chosen based on the hypothesized function of the problem behavior. Antecedent interventions such as those discussed below have been used in a variety of situations. These include feeding problems, repetitive behaviors, and aggressive behaviors.

The best way to understand how you can use these interventions is to break down some common antecedent interventions based on the determined function of a behavior.
What does word function mean in ABA?
“Function” is an oft-used term in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). If you have contact with individuals receiving ABA then you might read a statement like “the function of the behavior is…” or you may even be asked to participate in a “Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)”. While this language can seem unfamiliar, the concepts on which it is based are actually quite common and comprehensible. In this article, you will learn about what is meant by function, and the 4 functions of behavior.

Allow choices between work tasks
Provide more frequent breaks
Incorporate the person’s interests into the work tasks
Use behavior momentum (i.e., have the person complete several easy tasks before asking them to do a more difficult one)
Provide different methods of completing assigned tasks

Non-contingent reinforcement (i.e., provide attention on a fixed time schedule)
Allow for frequent opportunities to respond
Provide high-quality verbal praise (e.g., enthusiastic, behavior-speci

Use a visual schedule to indicate when the preferred item will be available and for how long
Non-contingent reinforcement (i.e., allow access to the item on a fixed time schedule)
Provide adequate opportunities to have access to the preferred item

First, address any potential medical concerns
Enrich the learning environment
Provide a set time for sensory behaviors
Provide more socially acceptable way to access the same sensory input
Include sensory activities in instructional tasks

“Function” is a useful term because of its flexibility. A Behavior Analyst can use the term to describe the likely reason why a problem behavior is occurring (i.e., the function of behavior), they can use it to identify a beneficial replacement for a challenging behavior (i.e., a functional alternative), or they can use it in the design of a program to teach essential skills (i.e., a functional repertoire). In each of these cases, the Behavior Analyst is more concerned with how the behavior impacts the life of the client than what the behavior physically looks like. This concept is one of the hallmarks of intervention in ABA. Check out some of our resources for teaching functional skills in our educational products store.

How do we assess the function of a behavior?
Behavior Analysts most often describe function in terms of the context in which a behavior occurs. The most common format for describing this relationship is the three-term contingency or, as it is more commonly referred, the ABC contingency. “A” stands for “Antecedent” or the events that occurred right before the behavior began, “B” stands for “Behavior” or the actions of the person we are observing, and “C” stands for “Consequence” or the events that occurred immediately following the behavior. By viewing behavior in this frame, we can start to discover the patterns that play a role in forming or maintaining a behavior over time.

For example:

Antecedent: Billy was presented work from his teacher

Behavior: Billy cried and threw his work to the ground

Consequence: Billy’s teacher gave him a break from work

In this scenario we would say that the event that triggered the behavior was the presentation of work, the behaviors were crying and throwing, and the result was that Billy got out of doing work. As a shorthand, a Behavior Analyst might say that the function of behavior was Escape from a work demand. This function would then be the starting point in the development of an intervention to reduce the challenging behavior (e.g., we might teach Billy a more appropriate way to request a break such as saying “Break please!”).