Power Of Choice

Have you ever wondered what it is like to have Autism? As a neurotypical person or a person without a diagnosis, it is difficult to understand or identify how it feels to be a person with a diagnosis. While researchers continue to try to gain information on how it may feel to have Autism, there’s no easy way to gain that information. Further, it may be hard to simply ask those with Autism to describe what it’s like because they can’t quantify it. While as parents, educators, advocates ,and therapists we may never understand what it’s like for those diagnosed with Autism, there are some ways to ensure that we foster their input into their daily lives. 


Are they able to thrive as they are? What are some ways to allow them to feel that they are a part of their day? Some ideas are giving them choices, providing them with schedules that they can give input to, picking an extracurricular activity, etc. 

Are choices incorporated into their day? For instance, a nonvocal child may not be able to verbally say what they want for breakfast, but if you place two items in front of them they may direct a part of their body towards one option. 

Are they allowed to be involved in their day/therapy/education? While a four year old may not be able to sit in an IEP meeting or understand the complexities of it, he can tell you what he likes and dislikes. If he’s super interested in trains, incorporate trains in whatever way is possible. 

Are they listened to/heard? Even non-vocal people communicate with some type of noise/cue to say no. If they say no, are their requests honored when appropriate? Sometimes it may be impossible to honor the request but if they’re looking for space or a break, are they given that when possible? 

In the typical hustle and bustle of the day this may be overwhelming or daunting. Currently though, there is an opportunity where many are staying at home often and routines are simplified. This may take time and practice, particularly during this time of change, but it could be the perfect time to take a step back and start new habits. A daily routine is essential, so it’s important to have those with Autism engaged in creating their schedule as much as possible. Eventually they will be in the driver’s seat of their daily life so let’s help them to make that transition as easy as possible. It may be scary to initially give them a small choice, and it may feel like they are starting out on the road for the first time, but looking back later and seeing them flourish will be worth it. 

How to Help Teach Children About Covid-19

This is a stressful and confusing time for all of us. There’s a lot of unknowns in our minds of how long our lives will temporarily be in the status they are in, with us all trying to socially distance and stay at home as much as possible. This is especially confusing for children who do not fully understand the impact of Covid-19. Asking children to wear a mask, wash their hands frequently,  no longer see friends or extended family, and having their schools closed brings about a lot of emotions and uncertainty. It can also be confusing to see others  wearing masks in the community, particularly in places where they did not previously see them such as the grocery store and gas station. 

Here are a few resources and ways that may aid in teaching about Covid-19:

  1. Tara Tuchel, a Speech Language Pathologist, has several free resource aids and social stories including stories on: what is Covid-19, Schools staying closed, distance learning, wearing a mask, and seeing other people wear masks. She even has a wearing a mask coloring book for children! These stories are made with simple concepts that can help your children become more familiarized with everything happening in their community. 
  2. Amanda Mc Guiness, an Autism Educator, has a free printable calendar with a visual “no school” icon for non-vocal children or a child that may need a visual calendar to remind them daily that school is closed for the day. 
  3. AutismSpeaks collaborated with Autism Certification Center to provide free access until June 1st  to video learning and resources to the Autism community. 
  4. The National Autism Association has several free resources including a hand washing tutorial, several Covid-19 social stories and resources for caretakers as well. 

While there isn’t much that can be done at this time to change our home status, these tools can aid in providing helpful conversation and visuals to reduce stress and anxiety. At the end of this, the hope is that we can look back on this time and remember fondly being able to stay at home and keep our health as a priority. Continue to take care of your children and those with Autism and tell them that all of their therapists and BCBA’s miss them and hope to see them soon!

Critical Steps for Starting Strong with Functional Communication Training

Every day we communicate to one another in some form.  It may be a verbal conversation, a gesture, or a picture.  Communication plays a large role in our daily lives.  Communication for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may develop aversive behaviors in order to communicate.  The goal of Functional Communication Training (FCT) is to find an appropriate way for the message to be received.  However, the first and most critical step is to know where to begin with the individual.

To start, in past interviews, when given a choice between FCT and other interventions, both the individuals and the caregivers preferred FCT.  This is one reason it has become common practice in working with individuals with ASD (Hanley et al., 1997).

One of the first steps is to find the function of the behavior.  What is it that the individual wants?  Do they want something to eat? A certain toy? Attention (Harding et al., 2009)?  Knowing what the motivation is for the individual will create a foundation for obtaining it appropriately.

The second step is to know the individual’s learning history.  If the person is able to say one-word phrases, it is recommended to start with that word and add more to the sentence at a later time.  For example:  An individual pushes items off a table.  They do this any time they want to have a glass of milk.  The individual has repeated the word milk in the past.  You see them head to the table to push the items off, you block them and then give them the instruction; say “milk”.  The child repeats the word and you immediately hand them the milk (Tiger, Hanley, & Bruzek, 2008).

Prompting is used to reach the appropriate behavior.  The caregiver needs to be sure the individual is successful in obtaining the item with the correct response.  Prompts will assure that the appropriate behavior will encounter the item before and more frequently than the aversive behavior.  It may be a physical prompt (assisting the individual to reach for a picture card instead of grabbing the item), or a verbal prompt (“Instead of whining, you can say ‘break please’”).  Depending on the individual’s learning history, different prompts may be used.  Once the behavior is displayed independently, thinning the prompts is the next step.

Having the wanted item ready is a critical step. In order to teach the new behavior, the item to access must be easier to obtain with the new behavior.  It also has to be delivered immediately after the new behavior is displayed.  This should reduce the aversive behavior.  As in the example above, saying “milk” should be easier than pushing items off a table. The item will also be delivered more frequently if it asked for appropriately.

FCT also focuses on the end goal of the individual.  The individual may start with one picture card and at the end use a full sentence strip.  The goal should be socially appropriate and understood by anyone the individual comes in contact with.  The individual may use a certain sign to indicate a specific item, but out in the community they may not be understood.  Shaping up a phrase is also one of the end goals for an individual.  A parent or provider can work on using a one word phrase and focus on shaping it until it is clear.

Using generalized or simple word may also help an individual obtain their want.  A word like “toy” or “snack” will help to reduce the aversive behaviors by then offering a choice of different toys or snacks.   Motivators change over time.  A cookie will not always be motivating, especially if they have already had five of them and are full.

Another important step is to make sure the person wants the item.  If they do not want it, they will not ask for it.  Studies have looked at both contrived and natural environments for teaching FCT.  Both showed increases in responding, but the natural environment showed better generalization and enhanced motivation.

In summary, to effectively teach FCT, you must:

  1. Know the function of the behavior.
  2. Know the individual’s skill set
  3. Prompt for beginning success
  4. Have the motivating item ready so the individual may obtain it faster, easier, and more frequently than when they engage in the aversive behavior.
  5. Know your end goal.
  6. Use generalized words to promote generalization.
  7. Know if the item is still motivating.


Hanley, G. P., Piazza, C. C., Fisher, W. W., Contrucci, S. A., & Maglieri, K. A. (1997). Evaluation of client preference for function-based treatment packages.Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis,30(3), 459-47.

Harding, J. W., Wacker, D. P., Berg, W. K., Lee, J. F., & Dolezal, D. (2009). Conducting functional communication training in home settings: A case study and recommendations for practitioners.Behavior Analysis in Practice,2(1), 21-33.

Tiger, J.H., Hanley, G. P., & Bruzek, J. (2008). Functional communication training: A review and practical guide.Behavior Analysis in Practice,1(1), 16-23.

Handwriting Skills for Those with Special Needs

Handwriting is one of the most essential skills for learners all over the world. It is something that can be a challenging skill for learners with special needs to master. As educators, we have the responsibility to help children learn this skill, and this can be achieved by implementing a learning program. A well-devised learning program for people with special needs consists of: a teaching plan, a practice plan, and a measurement plan.

According to Elizabeth Haughton, a highly recognized educational consultant with over 25 years of experience, a teaching plan has to take into consideration the following:

  1. Posture, the position of the paper, and pencil holding
  2. Marks, numbers, and letter formations
  3. The spacing of words and the ability for a learner to copy from a board or other paper
  4. Neatness
  5. Modeling OFTEN
  6. Showing support through modeling, gestural, verbal and physical prompts

The speed and neatness of writing are the criteria that define acceptable levels of writing by learners. If possible, the learner should be encouraged to self-evaluate their writing. It is suggested that they are asked to think about what they wrote well and have them consider what they may need to work on more. Teachers should be modeling acceptable formations of specific letters or words. Lastly, the task should be enjoyable and never tedious.

In order for a child with special needs to be successful in writing, they need repetition and implantation of a practice plan. A practice plan to achieve outstanding results should take these components into consideration:

  1. The accuracy and frequency of what they’re writing are equally important
  2. Practice for the learner can be timed or untimed
  3. The usage of multi-channels like think-write (learner thinks about something then writes about it), see-write-copy (sees something, writes something then copies it), and hear-write (hears something out loud and then writes it)
  4. Setting effective goals and clear expectations for the learner
  5. Honoring the learner by reinforcing them with what they like
  6. Always try to create fun for the learner when they are practicing

There are a variety of activities teachers can implement such as: filling in coloring pages with different marks (lines, dots, circles, etc.), drawing pictures, using templates that they can make designs in or color in, using practice sheets that require a variety of different writing to be completed, and using drawing sheets that explain how to draw something step by step. Teachers can use doodle books which can be fun and relaxing for the learner and help develop fine motor movements. Doing a combination of these things can help the learner practice while growing their endurance and strength in their hand. If the child has many difficulties writing, teachers can use a blank piece of paper then gradually move to big boxes to small boxes to lines for the learner to write in.

The key to making the complex task of writing more manageable is breaking it down to smaller goals. Teachers should not give children too much at once to practice. Haughton states that we need to follow the child and not a curriculum guide because curriculum guides or writing books are not meant to match children with special needs. Skipping pages and supplementing the writing book (similar to task analysis or shaping) can be useful. Furthermore, the way to know if the small writing goals are achievable is by gauging the learner’s attitude, the teacher’s attitude, and the data taken from what the learner does.

If making marks is difficult for the learner, doing more fine motor practicing by: tracing, dot to dot maze books, coloring, using multiple utensils like paint, markers, crayons, and pens, building with legos or blocks, using a workbench with tools, and cooking by stirring, pouring, rolling and scooping. The last idea she proposes to help develop fine motor skills is to engage the learner in a Big 6 + 6 exercise, which is a series of manual movements the child can practice. The teacher should gather a variety of manipulatives like play-doh, squishy balls, blocks, spray bottles etc., and have the learners do the following like this example:

Big 6      Reach, point, place, touch, grasp, release

+6          Pull, push, shake, squeeze, twist, tap        

These are all ways the learner can practice writing or get ready for that task if they need to first practice fine motor movements.

The final thing Haughton describes that teachers need for an effective learning plan is a measurement plan. The measurement plan takes the following components to invoke precision teaching:

  1. Pinpointing
  2. Measuring
  3. Charting
  4. Analyzing

It is imperative that when teachers measure, they make sure the learner knows how to perform the learning outcome asked of them. Also having the learner, if possible, count what is correct and incorrect from their writing, and consider using a time sample if appropriate. Teachers need to record and chart progress on a graph either on paper or on a computer. A child reaches writing fluency when they can write with accuracy and speed. Measuring the learner’s work will provide the necessary information for how the child is progressing with their writing.

Mastering how to write is important for every person because it is a skill they will use their entire lives. Therefore, having a learning plan in place with a well-devised teaching plan, practice plan, and measurement plan will lead the learner to writing fluency. These are all these suggestions that should be considered when teaching writing skills to students who have special needs.

References: Haughton, E. (2020, April). Retrieved from institute.centrealreach.com

5 Ways to Increase Physical Activity for Children

According to the CDC, children from the ages of 6-17 should engage in a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Decreasing time for physical activity, like recess, and an increase in technology have been linked to less physical activity in children. There are several health benefits to physical activity including decreased risk of obesity and growth of healthy bones and muscles. However, physical activity also promotes psychological well-being, reduces depression and anxiety, and could improve academic performance. It’s important to incorporate physical activity into your child’s routine and promote a healthy lifestyle. Some things to consider before adding physical activity to your family’s daily routine include selecting the type of physical activity, identify competing behaviors (work, travel, technology), and identify reinforcers for your children. The physical activity for your little ones should be fun, easy, and achievable. While going over your options consider resources available like parks, trails, classes that are offered, and tracks that are nearby. Here are 5 tips to help keep the little ones active:

  1. Set a specific time each day for physical activity -For younger children and children that benefit from visual prompts, a visual cue could be put in place. One example could be adding riding a bike into your child’s after school routine. Showing a picture of a bike to signal that it’s time for a bike ride helps build this activity into the daily routine. Once the physical activity has become part of the routine you can fade the visual prompt.
  2. Break up the physical activity into more achievable bouts – For your children it might be easier to engage in physical activity for 20 minutes 3 times a day versus 60 minutes all at once.
  3. Work towards a goal or use a token board – Set a goal and reinforcer that is motivating for your child and create a token board. Once your child engages in the desired physical activity, they earn a token (sticker, stamp). After your child earns 10 tokens (or whatever is agreed upon), they earn the set reinforcer they picked out in the beginning.
  4. Improve the skill – It’s said that a skill is more enjoyable when you’re good at what you’re doing. If your child struggles with riding a bike, don’t be afraid to get out there and help. Improving skills may also function as a reinforcer for your child. As they become better at bike riding, for example, they will be more likely to engage in bike riding and want to ride their bike.
  5. Use the “First/Then” approach – Find a reinforcer that is highly motivating for you child like playing on the iPad or playing at the playground. By using “First, play outside for 30 minutes. Then, get 30 minutes on the iPad” you can set clear expectations for your children. Then after time, you can increase the desired time of physical activity once it becomes more routine. Another way to incorporate the “first/then” is biking to the playground or walking to a friend’s house. First the physical activity must be completed, then there is reinforcement.

Including physical activity into your daily routine has several physical and mental health benefits. Use these tips to increase physical activity for your children and help the process.  From taking walks, yoga, riding bikes, to playing outside it’s important to keep your littles moving.

How To Promote Autism Awareness From Home

Did you know this April launches the 50th anniversary of Autism Awareness month? The National Autism Society created Autism Awareness month in 1970 to increase knowledge of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and improve quality of life for those living with the disorder. While a lot has changed since 1970, the need to promote awareness of ASD still remains essential. Typically each year there are large events in several communities nationwide that promote Autism Awareness. Due to the unprecedented current situation with Covid-19, many may be wondering how we can promote Autism Awareness in our communities with the lack of social gatherings.

  1. Share digital resources with those in your community: work, classroom, clubs/organizations
    The National Autism Society and Autism Speaks have impactful online infographics and resources. Get creative outside!
  2. Have your family join you in chalking your driveway or sidewalks with Autism Awareness Month and the hashtag #celebratedifferences
  3. Share with families near your home by putting a little spring activity in their yard! Use spring items such as colored plastic eggs filled with treats and Happy Autism Awareness Month/ #celebratedifferences paper slips inside.
  4. Take a pledge by spreading the word & fundraising online through different social media platforms.
  5. Send snail mail to family and friends expressing the importance of Autism Awareness month and give them this information on how they can help

In times like this, it’s more important than ever to know that you are not alone in the fight to advocate and include those with Autism. While it can seem daunting to try to explain what Autism to people who may have never come into contact with the disorder before, small steps taken each day unites us in helping those with the disorder to be understood and makes our world a little bit brighter.

Three Ways to Help Your Child Communicate

A hot topic with families generally is how to help their family member with Autism communicate. Whether a child uses an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device, sign language, or their voice, communication is an area that families and experts see as essential for developmental growth. In Applied Behavior Analysis, there are several ways in which communication is incorporated into a therapy session. 

The founder of ABA, B.F. Skinner broke up communication into different categories:

  • Mands- Any type of vocal communication that indicates something desired (i.e. Joel asks his mom for a cookie on his AAC device) 
  • Echoics- Vocal imitation (i.e. Scarlett’s mom says “Popcorn” and Scarlett repeats by signing “Popcorn”)
  • Tacts- labeling an item (i.e. Brody sees his dog playing outside. He says, “dog”.
  • Intraverbals- a conversation (this can be a statement such as filling in the rest of a song. For instance, Abigail’s Grandma says “Ready, set…” and Abigail finishes the statement, “Go!”)

These four types of communication are incorporated into each child’s session at some point based on their assessment level when they start services. Beyond a session though, family members can increase communication opportunities at home or in the community by doing three things: 

  1. Provide opportunities for the person to communicate. If you’re providing dinner for them, place the plate on the table but intentionally forget the fork so they have the chance to request for it. This increases the amount of times the person has to communicate. That old saying, “practice makes perfect” is actually really valid in the communication world. Give them several moments each day to practice their communication and they will learn and grow from
  2. Participate in vocal play. Even before words exist for a child, babbling and hearing sounds is beneficial. When playing with a child and their train set, make the train sounds. This will give them the option to hear and imitate the sounds that you make. This can also be used if the person babbles at all. For instance, Colt continues to say “eeeee” so his therapist says “eeee” as well. 
  3. Provide opportunities for functional communication training. This is something that can be crucial even further into a child’s development. Provide communication when they are visibly doing something to gain access or avoid something. For instance, John is watching a movie with his parents. He becomes afraid of something on the screen and hides under a blanket. His mom provides some communication for him: “John, I think you’re scared. Do you want to keep watching the movie or do you need a break?” John then requests the break. This can also be utilized for those who are non-vocal or are unable to request a break. For instance, when Addie is approached by a horse at the farm she runs away. Her mom prompts her to use her device and say “no thank you” then gives her different options of animals at the farm they can look at. Addie chooses the goats. 

Communication is a vital skill for development along with being beneficial to express an individual’s needs, wants and thoughts in the home. By utilizing these three tips, communication can flourish in one’s day to day routine even when therapy is unavailable. 


Cooper, J. Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed). New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Shane, Joseph, “Increasing Vocal Behavior and Establishing Echoic Stimulus Control in Children with Autism” (2016). Dissertations. 1400. https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/dissertations/1400

Sundberg, Mark L. (2008) VB-MAPP Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program :a language and social skills assessment program for children with autism or other developmental disabilities : guide Concord, CA : AVB Press

Considering OUR Behavior as Parents

Generally, when families are referred for ABA services, it is due to the behavior of their child. That behavior can vary from severe to minimal, however if a referral occurs, it means the behavior is interfering in some way with the child’s ability to function in their day to day environment. 

Once ABA services begin, BCBAs and RBTs will work together to collect data and determine the function (The Why?) of the child’s behavior. Treatment plans are written to manipulate the environment so the child can access their “Why” without having to engage in the behavior being treated.  However, there can sometimes be a missing piece to the ever-evolving puzzle.

That missing piece is the function of the parent’s behavior, OUR behavior.  As parents, we often engage in behavior that results in the avoidance of behavior from our children.  For example, my son did not independently put on his own socks and shoes until he started kindergarten. Not because he lacked the ability to. He didn’t do it, because I was always in a rush and did it for him. I didn’t have time to sit there and go through the whining and arguing and whatever other behavior he engaged in on any given day to get out of doing it by himself. He and I were on a merry-go-round of avoidant behavior. Him – avoiding putting on his socks; me – avoiding the whining, as well as being late to work. 

As parents we often find ourselves engaging in behavior that is ‘easier’ than dealing with undesirable behavior from our children.  We only go to the store when they aren’t with us, we do the task for them because it is faster and easier, we cook them dinner, we know they like to avoid the refusal to eat, we hand them the iPad when we’re on the phone so we can concentrate on the phone call. The list goes on and on, and we generally don’t do it knowingly.  

 In an analysis on the contingencies of parent behavior Stocco and Thompson (2015) described differences in participant behavior dependent on child behavior. Less demands were placed on children who engaged in higher rates of problem behavior. Participants also removed non-preferred toys from the environment when those objects were related to an increase in problem behavior.  Children who engaged in less problem behavior were given more demands and non-preferred toys were left in the room. Another study showed that adult participants gave higher levels of reprimands, when those reprimands resulted in the discontinuance of behavior from the child participant. Yet, another study result has shown that parents who excessively help their children with tasks don’t allow the child opportunities to complete the task independently (remember the socks?). (Stocco & Thompson, 2015)  

There are some strategies that can help parents reduce problem behavior from their children while also reducing their own avoidant behavior. 

  1. Start getting ready earlier
    1. If getting dressed independently takes your child a long time, you may start getting ready for an event earlier to allow them the opportunity to do so without being rushed. 
  2. Take shorter trips to the grocery store
    1. If going to the store with your child is a struggle, try taking shorter trips where you only need one or two things, then start increasing the amount of time you spend there with your child. 
  3. Present non-preferred meals with preferred meals
    1. If eating vegetables is difficult, try veggie tots, or even presenting veggies with pizza (not necessarily on the pizza).  

One of the biggest, and most important things we as parents can do is take a step back and consider what the function of our behavior is, our “Why”.  Then we can begin to change our reactions to our children’s behavior to begin meeting their “why” before they (or we) need to engage in an undesirable behavior to get the result we want. 


Stocco, C. S., & Thompson, R. H. (2015). Contingency Analysis of Caregiver Behavior: Implications for Parent Training and Future Directions. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Summer(48), 417-435.

Autism and Higher Education

There are limited amounts of studies that show research on students with ASD in higher education.  The research that has been done indicates that students who transition into higher education can face complications, such as new situations and routines, time management, and social relationships. While that may bring some anxiety to both the parents and the student, there are multiple recommendations to help the transition and college experience more enjoyable.

  1. A Personalized Approach
  2. A Safe and Transparent Environment with Sufficient Planning and Clear Communication
  3. Academic Accommodations
  4. Coaching in Education, Student Life and Daily Living
  5. Adequate Psychosocial Support
  6. Leisure Activities and a Sufficient Amount of Rest

A Personalized Approach

Students want their voices to be heard.  They feel it would be beneficial for the staff to have the opportunity to take the students’ personal preferences into account when setting transitional goals. It could also be advantageous to have an awareness program contributing to breaking down perceived stigmas of ASD, and instead, highlights the talents of students with ASD.

A Safe and Transparent Environment with Sufficient Planning and Clear Communication

Due to new situations causing uncertainty, stress and anxiety, students emphasized the desire for colleges to provide both a safe and transparent education and living environment. To do this, support staff could familiarize the expectations of the new environments with the students. This could include a detailed description of the activities, conducting a campus tour, and identifying places the students could find peaceful. Another way to reduce stress, anxiety, and uncertainty is providing clear communication, letting the students know what is expected of them and their progress of new routines. One way to make this easier, would be to have one contact person who is familiar with ASD, whom the student could consult with during times of confusion, wanting to feel safe, or if they have questions.

Academic Accommodations

These can consist of additional time for written exams, extra preparation time for oral exams, having access to a separate room for exams, and allowing the option of doing alternative assignments instead of completing group work. This isn’t to say that no group work will be completed, but for a student with ASD who is feeling anxious or tense, having that option available could prove very beneficial. It’s also helpful for the staff to be aware that there is a diversity when it comes to ASD and that one student’s experiences might not be the same as another’s.

Coaching in Education, Student Life and Daily Living

This recommendation will help with both transitioning to higher education and the actual experience itself.  Research shows that students with ASD stated they would prefer to have one selected personal coach to help monitor and support their activities. These activities may include selecting a major, enhancing study skills, providing feedback on struggles, and providing advice if needed. As noted above, students with autism will have to collaborate with others at some point throughout their college experience, so having a coach to discuss ways to make those situations easier could be ideal.

Adequate Psychosocial Support

Psychosocial support is a typical term for non-therapeutic intervention that can help a person cope with stressors at work or in home. It is important for students to feel support from their family, most notably their parents, and this availability can help the students be able to talk to someone to prevent or cope with any stress, anxiety, or sometimes depression.

Leisure Activities and Sufficient Amount of Rest

A main strategy for handling anxiety and/or stress for students is to make time for leisure activities such as writing, watching television, running, or other areas of strong interest for that student. It’s also important to get sufficient rest, especially when embarking on a full-time course load when they enroll in higher education.

While thinking of your children going into higher education can be stressful, it’s also going to be a very rewarding time. I hope these six recommendations listed above will help ease the minds of both the student and parent when coming up on this journey of furthering their education!



Hees, V. V., Moyson, T., & Roeyers, H. (2014, December 2). Higher Education Experiences of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Challenges, Benefits and Support Needs. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-014-2324-2.


Measuring Behavior: The Power of Data Collection

In applied behavior analysis, data drives each decision we make. Without data, we are simply making our best guess with the information we have at hand. Often these guesses are based on our own opinion and contain subjective information derived from how we “feel” things are going. Data allows us to make objective decisions based on quantifiable information.  When data is objective, it removes one’s opinion and makes the data more accurate. It is important that we make changes based on accurate information in order to support effective behavioral change. 

Data isn’t something that’s only meant for scientists. Many fields and professionals use data including doctors, pharmacists, mechanics, teachers, and business owners. In reality, most of us analyze, search, find patterns, and make predictions with information in our everyday lives. Data is everywhere and it often drives the decisions we make without us even knowing it.

Let’s look at some examples of how we use data everyday: 

  • Checking the weather to determine what to wear for the day
  • Making a grocery list to determine what you need from the store
  • Following a recipe
  • Keeping a food log
  • Using a device to track exercise, sleep, and mood

In applied behavior analysis, we use data to measure behavior change. The goal of any behavior analysis program is to change behavior. Behavior analysts measure the effect of interventions on behavior. Once an intervention is put in place, behavior analysts watch for a decrease in problem behavior and an increase in positive behavior. The only way we know this change is occurring is with data collection. Chances are, you have been asked to complete this very important task of data collection. 

Data collection is a core part of your child’s therapy program. Data is collected each time your child has a therapy session. You might even be asked to collect data outside of therapy sessions depending on your child’s goals. Data may be collected on your child’s behaviors, new skills, treatment goals, potty, social skills, sleep, or eating patterns. What behaviors and skills are tracked and the type of data collection used is specific to your child’s plan. 

There are numerous types of data collection some of which you might be familiar with and some that might be new to you. Anytime you are asked to collect data or when data is shared with you, your child’s consultant will train you on collection and interpretation. Below are different types of data collection that may be used by your child’s team or that you might be asked to collect.

  • Frequency: the number of times a behavior or response occurs.
  • Duration: the length of time from start to stop that a behavior or response occurs.
  • Latency: the length of time from the instruction to the start of the behavior.
  • Intensity/Magnitude: the degree to which the behavior is happening. What is the impact of the behavior?
  • ABC Recording: Descriptive information about the antecedent, behavior, and consequence when observing a behavior. The antecedent occurs before the behavior and triggers it. The consequence is what happened after the behavior including how others responded. 
Date/Time Activity Antecedent Behavior Consequence


  • Per Opportunity: When the opportunity arises for your child to engage in a particular behavior, skill, or response does your child complete it or not. 

In conclusion, data collection is a very important piece to your child’s therapy program. Data collection is not only used to track problem behavior, but also data is collected on your child’s new skills, goals, and other adaptive behaviors. Data collection helps us to know if treatment is working. With data collection, it becomes easier for professionals to understand behavior patterns and the progress of the individual. In the end, data collection can be viewed as the most important part of your child’s treatment program because without it, effective treatment would not be able to take place. Data collection is the foundation for decision making with one’s treatment and supports your child’s success. Now let’s take some data!


  • Bears, K. Johnson, C., Handen, B., Butter, E., Lecavalier, L., Smith, T., Seahill, L. (2018). Parent training for disruptive behavior; the RUBI autism network, parent workbook. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 
  • Cooper, J. Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed). New Jersey: Pearson Education.
  • Kansas Institute for Positive Behavior Support, University of Kansas.