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Antecedent Based Interventions for Children with Autism

July 18, 2023

Antecedent based interventions (ABI) stem from Applied behavior analysis (ABA). They are designed to help autistic individuals with problem behaviors and those behaviors necessary to stay focused on tasks.
Teachers, practitioners, and parents can use the evidence based practices within ABI strategies to help figure out why the problem behavior occurs. They can also include other evidence based practices like a functional behavior assessment (FBA), reinforcement, and extinction.

Antecedent Based Interventions for Children with Autism

What do antecedent based interventions look like?

Most intervention strategies look different, because each person is different. One tool used is the antecedent, behavior, consequence (ABC) chart.

The ABC chart is broken into five sections that include the date, time, the activity that was going on when the behavior occurred, the antecedent or what happened before the behavior, what the behavior or reaction was, and the consequence that happened because of the behavior.
So, when discussing the antecedent, or what occurred before a behavior, it is important to have notes and documentation to fall back on and figure out why there was a certain behavior. The problem behavior can be disruptive, it can also be a preferred behavior and figuring out how to duplicate it could benefit the person with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Figuring out the antecedent of a behavior is the goal of ABI and the strategies used can help eliminate or duplicate the behavior being observed. The use of a functional behavior assessment is the first step and can help further pinpoint and dial in on what the intervention strategies should focus on.

What are some evidence based practices that work alongside ABI strategies?

There are three main evidence based practices that work well with ABI strategies. These practices include:

  • Functional behavior assessment: in the United States, this is done by a qualified professional that has observed the autistic individual and/or assessed biological issues, psychological challenges, quality of life, and environmental conditions
  • Reinforcement: positive reinforcements are when the autistic child receives something they didn’t have and wanted when the targeted behavior occurs
  • Extinction: this is when a challenging behavior is eliminated and replaced with a positive behavior in therapy
Antecedent Based Interventions for Children with Autism

How many ways can antecedent based intervention strategies be used?

There are different ways that common ABI procedures can be implemented and these depend on who is using them. The most common strategies include:

  • using items and activities that the autistic individual prefers and is interested in
  • updating and/or changing a routine/schedule based on the individual’s needs
  • the use of visual supports and verbal warnings about changing activities
  • offering and providing choices
  • change up the scene, style of teaching, or the environment based on the individual
  • offer an environment with sensory rich activities and tools

These are tips and tricks that can be used at home, school, or even in a waiting room, or office. Knowing the individuals and their preferences helps form the environment and what works the best for them.

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Working together

There are many ways that these ideas can be implemented in the home. It is usually recommended to carry what the individual has learned in therapy sessions over to the home for the best results.
Talking with the behavior technician to know what they are doing at the therapy center and/or school is a good start. For instance, if there are specific visuals that they use, or items they use to teach, the technician and teacher can let the parent know and they may be able to use those same tools at home.
Also, finding an ABC chart is easy online. If there are behaviors that the parent is noticing at home that aren’t happening at the child’s school or therapy center, then they can make their own chart and observe their child.

Once the behaviors are noted, the parent can talk to their technician about what they are noticing. The technician could then let the parent know what they think, and they can even add strategies to the behavior plan that can be worked on at home and at the center to help reinforce the plan.

Ideas for parents at home

Many centers have parent education meetings that help teach parents different skills that can help with their child and implement what they learn during sessions at home. The skills taught are general to what concerns the parents bring to the technicians to talk about.

The parent can also have a meeting of their own with their team of technicians, case managers, teachers and anyone else who helps with the plan that is being implemented for their child. In this meeting they can talk to and know what tools and activities they can do at home, and also talk about what they have been doing at home that they notice have helped improve problem behaviors.

There are technicians that will have parents observe and note when a certain behavior occurs, what happened before, what was going on during the incident, and what was the repercussion? These notes are helpful to notice and learn what the child may have been seeking.

A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) once told me that behavior serves as a form of communication. This communication is often for those who may not have the words for what they need, what they’re feeling, etc.

One thing that really helps is being an active member of the team that puts together the treatment plans for your child, and also includes your child if they are able to participate. It is empowering for the child, the parents, and the parents to know they were heard and have an active part making treatment not seem so daunting versus feeling overwhelmed and left out.

Next steps

As always, it is important for parents to discuss with their child’s doctor and/or practitioner when they have concerns over their child, their child’s behavior, etc. In order to best serve the child and provide opportunities with the child’s best interests in mind, these concerns need to be acknowledged and discussed.

As a parent, there are resources and support groups available that they can also read, discuss, and learn about to bring their concerns to professionals. The practitioners should then be able to provide assessments to further observe the child and why the behaviors are happening.

After therapies are in place and there is an action plan for practitioners, teachers, and parents to implement, conversation should remain open within the team. That way the child’s best interest is kept at the center.

There are laws in place, in the United States, that protect the child and parents’ rights during therapies. Knowing parental rights and responsibilities is imperative to maintaining a good balance within the team.


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