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What is Trigger Analysis in ABA?

April 29, 2021


Trigger analysis in ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) provides a way for negative or challenging behaviors to be identified and observed. 

What is Trigger Analysis in ABA?

Trigger analysis can be used by parents with a child, by teachers with a student, or by anyone who wants to monitor challenging behaviors with the goal of intervention to help an individual alter his/her behavior. The main aim is always to develop more socially appropriate behaviors that support and improve mental health, social skills, and overall quality of life. 

Learning about what triggers challenging behavior can be a positive first step in exploring possible methods of therapy and support, that help create a healthy environment for happiness and personal growth for your child.

What is trigger analysis?

Trigger analysis is a method used in ABA therapy to pinpoint or identify challenging behaviors in a child or any other individual where there is observable behavior or problem behavior that needs modification or changes to improve the behavior or occurrence of more appropriate and functional behavior. 

The function of using trigger analysis is to better understand what causes, or triggers, a child or individual to engage in difficult behavior that may occur throughout a variety of settings for a variety of different functions.

Method of application through ABA therapy

The method of application of trigger analysis in ABA therapy can be used with the ABC model of applied behavior therapy. ABC is an acronym that stands for: Antecedent, Behavior, Consequences. Using this method, a parent, teacher, or therapist is able to record what happened in the environment before the behavior or event happened, observe the behavior that follows the antecedent or triggers, and the consequences that follow the behavior or event.

An example using this process could take place in a home where a parent observes negative behavior every time the parent gets on the phone. The antecedent would be the phone ringing. Knowing the parent will answer the phone, the child engages in negative or challenging behavior for the function of attention seeking once the parent is on the phone. The consequence could be loss of access of a desired item. 

Sometimes a parent may either get off the phone to attend to the child or give attention to the child by telling him/her to be respectful and quiet while they are on the phone. Both of the latter unknowingly give positive reinforcement to the child because he/she received attention which was the function of the behavior. Even though the attention he/she received was negative attention, the child still received attention which would be a positive reinforcement. Long term, the child knows, the worse he/she acts the more attention he/she receives, which eventually makes it almost impossible for the parent to get on the phone due to continued behavioral outbursts.


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Using an ABA approach and understanding the triggers that are causing the behaviors can help parents and professionals search for other means to reverse some of the challenging behaviors. In this example, a token board could be used and a specific task given for a child to earn access to a highly desired item reserved for positive reinforcement. Show the child the token board and remind the child that when you get on the phone, he/she is working for access to a special treat or toy. The next time the phone rings, put the token board in view where the child can see it. Give him/her a specific task or activity to complete while you are on the phone. It can be stringing beads, sorting shapes, completing a puzzle, or working in a color or activity book. 

Be realistic about time and work your way to larger time increments. Your child may only be able to stay on task for two or three minutes at time, but sticking with it will help build that time and before you know it, you’ll be able to have a regular phone conversation with friends and family without behavior outbursts!

Benefits of trigger analysis

Using trigger analysis methods can be beneficial for children in multiple areas. Social skills can improve, children can develop a greater awareness of impulsive behaviors with focus on self control and self awareness. When applied appropriately, ABA principles can help create healthy environments where children can thrive, grow, learn, and succeed in social, academic, and home settings with access to additional supports and resources. 

Understanding what triggers your child’s specific challenging behaviors can help you understand better the needs your child has and how to be a better advocate for him/her. Your child may need extra support, accommodations, or modifications in his/her home, social, or academic environment. Understanding behaviors and the resources you have access to provides the biggest benefits of all: inclusion, acceptance, independence, a healthy social life, and improved mental health and overall wellbeing.

Trigger analysis in the classroom

As well as at home, trigger analysis methods can be used in school by teachers and education staff to help students overcome testing anxiety, stage fright, depression, as well as behavior conflicts in the classroom. Using trigger analysis can help teachers and staff predict the outcomes of certain behaviors so that they can be better equipped in the classroom to deal with any type of behavior and be prepared to devise a personalized behavior management program that is scientifically proven to work, to help maintain a happy and positive learning experience and environment for your child.

Summing-up

Challenging behaviors can be identified and observed through trigger analysis. Learning about the cause or starting point for any challenging behavior can be an excellent way to help create a more positive relationship between your child and the environment around him/her.

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