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ABC's of ABA

A few weeks ago I attended a workshop presented by a behavior therapist. As it turned out, I went to a conference on the same topic over a year ago. I will describe what I have taken away from these methods in my own words - but please take a look at the links I have provided below.

After I learned about this, life with children made a lot more sense to me. Not that this is earth shattering material, but it helped me to better understand the hows, whats and whys of behavior in children, and occasionally husbands.

I am in no way an expert in this - just a parent who wants to share a behavior strategy that has worked in our home. I hope to inspire others to explore it further.  Any errors in information comes from me and cannot be blamed on the presenters. Also, you may have seen ABA - Applied Behavior Analysis - connected most often with Autism - please do not let this deter you if your child is not autistic. I use these methods with all my children, none of which are labeled autistic.

Situation - You have picked up your daughter from a full day of school. You have been at work all day. You are both hungry and tired. You have to stop at a grocery store to pick up a few items. As you take a short cut through the cookie isle, your daughter asks politely if she may have a cookie. You say, "No!" She instantly falls on the floor and goes into a full tantrum. After a few threats of timeout, no cookies for life and counting to 3, you open a pack of cookies from the shelf and give her one. She stops crying and you carry on with your grocery shopping.

Antecedent - the event that happens directly before the behavior. In this case, it is your response of, "No!"

Behavior - the tantrum

Consequence - think of this word in a different sense than "punishment." It is what happens directly after the behavior. In this example, the daughter received the cookies. This actually reinforced her tantrum behavior because she gained access to what she wanted.

Consider these points

Setting Event
Other items to consider when analyzing behavior is the environment, meaning were you or your child hungry, tired or having a bad day? Is it cold or hot? Is it a large crowd? Do you feel uncomfortable? Do you feel rushed? The environment may change how a situation plays out.

Reasons for behavior
Access to something, like candy, TV, game, person
Escape from homework, therapy, going to bed
Sensory Input like self-stimulation

Intervention/Prevention Strategies
  1. In this example, if the mom could have foreseen that the child would be hungry, she could have brought a snack for the car. 
  2. The mom may have chosen a different path through the grocery store.
  3. Go to the grocery store another time.
  4. Stop by the produce section, get a banana and let your child eat it. Pay for it with the other groceries.
  5. The child requested the cookies in a polite manner. Not that the mom has to say yes, but she could have explained it more than just saying, "No!" 

FERB - Functional Equivalent Replacement Behavior - Basically replacing the problem behavior with appropriate behavior.
  1. Teach your child to request items with simple signs, pictures, gestures or word approximations.
  2. Teach child to wait.
  3. Teach child to accept no.
  4. Teach negotiation. *Typical children have this skill and often we will work out a deal with our typical child because they have the words. Think about your non-conversational child and how they would negotiate if they had the skills. You can use pictures and signs to help them make a choice. Think about what rewards you can offer in a negotiation - "First you do this, then we can read your favorite book."

Positive Reinforcement
  • When problem behavior is replaced with appropriate behavior, REWARD! REWARD! REWARD!
  • Make sure the reward is desirable. Do not give him a sticker if he does not like them.

Here are a few links that can give more information:
I want to give credit to the presenters of the two workshops I attended:
  • Diane Bannerman Juracek, Ph.D., Senior Administrator, Community Living Opportunities and Amy McCart University of Kansas
  •  Natalia Acosta, BCABA, ABA Therapist with Stepping Stones in Charlotte, NC

And thank you to the Down Syndrome Association of Charlotte for hosting these events.


  1. Thanks for this post - love it (it works with us adults too!)

  2. This is exactly what I preach (and try to practice), our elementary school embraces this as their discipline approach.


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