What is ABA Therapy Data Collection?

I am not sure about you, but to me the word data is intimidating. The first time I was shown a data collection chart from a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) I did a double take. I was unsure of what I was reading and interpretating. After taking some time to really focus on what was being shown to me and having it explained a few times, I started to grasp the importance of data.

Data is collected and analyzed to help clinicians understand if progress is being made or not. It helps therapists understand when a task or situation can be made more challenging, if a step back is necessary, or if continuing on the same path is appropriate. As a parent or someone not used to the ABA world it takes some getting used to, to understand the information being provided.

Behavioral analysists use data collection to record behaviors. This can mean behaviors you want to increase (i.e., asking for help, requesting items, completing tasks, etc.) and/or behaviors you want to decrease (i.e., yelling, aggression, self-injurious behaviors, etc.).

There are many different ways a behavior analyst can collect data. It is chosen based on the information they are looking into and the types of behavior responses they are evaluating. Some data collections include: (Data Collection Methods Reference Guide document can be found at achieve.lausd.net)

  • Frequency and Rate: This data can track the number of occurrences of a behavior or response in a specific time frame. For example, the number of times a child got up from their seat during an hour therapy session.
  • Duration: How long did the behavior occur.
  • Latency: The amount of time from the instruction to the start of a behavior. For example, you wave at your child. The latency would be the amount of time it took them to wave back or say “hello.”
  • Permanent Product Recording: Data collected on the outcome or product of the behavior, rather than the behavior. For example, the number of correct responses on a worksheet.
  • ABC Data: This takes data on the antecedents (before the behavior), behavior, consequences (after the behavior). It involves recording information on environmental variables related to a behavior.

After the data is collected it is charted and graphed. When you first look at these charts there is a lot going on and sometimes they can be challenging to read. Remember to take a step back and remind yourself of the type of data you are looking at, it can make all the difference.

Here is an example to help better understand what a chart may look like. Your child’s BCBA wants to track the number of times self-injurious behaviors occur during the 3 hours they are in therapy. On the X axis (horizontal axis) the graph shows the calendar days, and the Y axis (vertical axis) the graph shows the number of times the behavior occurs. The first few weeks of charting it appears that the behaviors are steadily high, meaning they are all gathered in relatively the same spot on the graph towards a higher rate of occurrence. Then the behavior analyst decides to implement a change in managing the behavior during the therapy sessions. The graph then shows data points decreasing and moving closer to the X axis on the graph. This change tells the BCBA that the modification in therapy is directly corresponding to a change in behavior.

Basically, in shorter words the trend of self-injurious behaviors has decreased because the clinician made a change in their approach. This adjustment in therapy has shown to work with evidence to support the changes because of the data that was collected and graphed.

Data collection helps clinicians understand patterns and to measure progress towards goals. It also allows practitioners to make informed decisions on interventions using evidence to back up their decisions. Don’t let data intimidate you!  It can really help make the most of your child’s ABA therapy and development.