What is an Antecedent-Based Intervention in Applied Behavior Analysis?

Antecedent-based interventions (ABIs) are strategies that involve modifying the environment to reduce undesirable behaviors among learners with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disorders.

Antecedent-based interventions are built on the concept that because behaviors are often influenced by the environment, modifying the environment in which the undesirable behavior occurs can then eliminate the undesirable behavior.

To fully understand ABIs, it’s important to first understand the concept of antecedent-behavior-consequence, or the ABCs. The antecedent occurs directly before the behavior, then the behavior, and then the consequence occurs directly after the behavior.

Through ABIs, the teacher is looking to prevent the undesirable behavior from occurring by changing the antecedent – or what’s happening immediately before the behavior.

What Are the Benefits of Implementing an Antecedent-Based Intervention?

Many ASD learners have difficulty understanding what is expected of them and often act out using undesirable behaviors when they are in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar environment. ABIs allowing ASD learners to feel more in control, which thereby reduces their anxiety and stress and the undesirable behaviors that often result. ABIs help ASD learners better navigate their daily routines and better understand how to handle daily expectations, from time management to schedules to transitioning between activities.

Before implementing an ABI, the teacher first completes a functional behavior assessment, which involves identifying the factor or factors that are reinforcing the undesirable behavior and then modifying the environment so that the undesirable behavior is no longer reinforced. In other words, the goal of ABI is to identify the factors that are reinforcing behaviors considered inappropriate, unwanted, or even detrimental and then to apply antecedent-based interventions that work to remove the reinforcement of undesirable behaviors.

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What Are Some of the Strategies Used in ABIs?

While there are many ABI strategies, the most common ones include using one or more of the following:

  • Finding items or activities that attract the ASD learner’s interest
  • Changing the ASD learner’s schedule or routine
  • Offering choices to the ASD learner
  • Changing how the teacher provides the instructions to the ASD learner
  • Alerting the ASD learner that a change in activity/schedule will take place

Many times, ABI strategies are used alongside other applied behavior analysis (ABA) strategies like extension and reinforcement.

A good example of using ABI would be a child who doesn’t want to brush his teeth and responds by throwing the toothbrush and screaming. The teacher could introduce any number of ABI strategies to encourage the child to accept teeth brushing each morning:

  • The teacher may construct a visual chart that shows where in the learner’s schedule teeth brushing happens, so the child can prepare for the activity.
  • The teacher may help the child feel more in control by giving him a choice of choosing between two toothbrushes or flavors of toothpaste.
  • The teacher may change the child’s schedule and insert the task of teeth brushing during a time when the child is likely to be calmer, such as after story time.
  • The teacher may make the task of teeth brushing easier by introducing a toothbrush with a larger handle for better control.