Positive Approaches to Challenging Behavior

Directly Observing Behavior: ABC Chart

Once the operational definition is completed, there are a number of direct observation strategies that are commonly used in a FBA. The two most common strategies include the Antecedent Behavior Consequence Chart and the Scatter plot.

The ABC chart stands for antecedent, behavior, and consequence. When someone conducts an observation using the ABC chart, they are looking for the stream of behaviors that are occurring and the order in which they occur. The ABC chart helps the observer collect information about what is happening during a period of time. This link contains a blank ABC chart PDF that can be used to collect the information. A completed ABC chart looks like the visual on this page.

What Happens Before a Behavior - Look for an antecedent or trigger that is preceding challenging behavior. Examples of antecedents include verbal cues, physical prompts, items or activities, or people. If it is not obvious what is "triggering" the behavior, look for the absence of something important (attention, people, favorite items). Focus on recording what happened immediately before the behavior occurred (you can look for patterns later).

What the Person Says or Does - The behavior is also recorded during direct observation. Select the behavior multiple behaviors that will be observed. This could be a positive social behavior or a challenging behavior.

What Happens Right After a Behavior - The ABC chart helps you identify the maintaining consequence and better understand the function of a challenging behavior. Observe what occur immediately after the targeted behavior.

A word "consequence" is not exactly the same in meaning as the word "punishment" (although punishment can occur right after a challenging behavior). A consequence is simply what happens after a behavior occurs. It is the action taken following a behavior. A consequence that follows challenging behavior in a consistent manner helps us understand the social function that is maintaining it.

Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) Observation Chart

What happens before a behavior

What the person says or does

What happens right after a behavior

Roommate was talking to a friend at the kitchen table

Andy began making loud noises

Roommate stopped talking to friend and told Andy to stop

Andy was alone in the living room while staff and others are talking

Andy threw a can of soup across the kitchen

Everyone immediately tells Andy that throwing cans can hurt people

Andy's roommate and friend are playing video game together

Andy stands in front of the monitor in the living room blocking view

Andy's roommate tries to push Andy out of the way

Adapted From: Freeman, R., Matthews, K., Griggs, P. & Quick, S. (2013). Functional behavioral assessment [Online]. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas.

Events that immediately precede the occurrence of the target behavior

  • Presence of certain adults/peers
  • Being told “no”
  • Changes in routine
  • Transitions
  • Presentation of tasks
  • Termination of preferred activities
  • Given feedback about behavior or performance
  • Absence of attention
  • Favorite pet or activity unavailable
  • Unpleasant or uncomfortable setting (places that are too hot, noisy, cold, or unpredictable)
  • Internal events and strong emotions (anxiety, pain, fear, anger, happiness, etc.)

What event immediately followed the behavior?

  • Attention from others
  • Stern look/glare from someone
  • Negative feedback given to person
  • Avoiding or ending a task
  • Talking to peers or others
  • Getting something that was requested
  • Engaging in activity
  • Removal of items, activities, or people
  • Access to items, activities, or people
  • Relief from internal sensations (expending energy, lessoning of emotions, alleviation of pain)