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Antecedent-Based Intervention Strategies: A Brief Overview

As a derivative of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Antecedent-Based Intervention (ABI) strategies rely on the principles of reinforcement-focused operant conditioning. ABI specifically looks at the environmental stimuli immediately preceding a target behavior (antecedents) and those that follow (consequences). This type of analysis is commonly called “A-B-C” data recording because the antecedent, behavior, and consequence are of interest. By focusing on the individual’s environment, antecedent events or behaviors can be manipulated in an attempt to modulate a specific target behavior. For example, if a child engaged in elopement at the dinner table, an interventionist may conclude that the open window in front of the child is distracting him or her from eating dinner and qualifies as an antecedent to elopement. Likewise, if an ice-cream truck outside plays music around dinner time regularly, the child’s elopement may be reinforced by the pleasurable song obtained by opening the window. In an attempt to extinguish elopement behavior while utilizing antecedent-based strategies, the therapist may seat the child away from the window in order to remove the antecedent stimulus. Additionally, the window may be locked in order to prevent reinforcement of the elopement by the song. In executing ABI, the child is less inclined to elope to the window and is differentially reinforced for time spent eating dinner.

Goals of ABI strategies include reduced problem behavior and increased engagement for on-task behaviors. If ABI strategies are effectively executed, a child with ASD may succeed in small goals such as tying shoes or washing hands and larger goals such as going to the supermarket more efficiently than reinforcement strategies alone. The appeal of ABI strategies lies in its versatility. Most evidence-based practices can benefit from removing antecedent stimuli and their reinforcing consequences through the increased focus and productivity of the student or client. Therefore, ABI strategies can be most effectively utilized at school and in the home where a controlled work environment can be provided.

ABI treatments are perfect for joint attention and skill acquisition goals for children and adults with ASD. Therefore, I recommend using ABI strategies to boost productivity in the classroom or home of anyone with ASD working towards a goal. Likewise, anyone can use ABI to boost productivity, like a student distracted by a phone during studying or a recovering addict pinpointing relapse trigger. However, despite the many positive effects of increased focus from ABI strategies, limitations exist in where ABI can be implemented. Public areas such as playgrounds, museums, and stores make it difficult to conduct A-B-C analysis because of the varying spontaneity of stimuli at any given moment. The same antecedent is not always present or available to remove, and the overall environment is impossible to predict and control. Thus, I would not recommend using ABI for social goals with peers or those involving the general public due to the uncertainty of the environment.


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