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Learning Centre

Module 4: Assessment of Behaviour

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When challenging behaviours arise, it’s crucial to intervene and to make sure that the plan we’re using is effective in decreasing the behaviour in question. In order to do this properly, we need to have some information on the target behaviour before, during and after the intervention has been applied. The information we collect is referred to as data. Data is helpful because the more you know about the behaviour, the more likely you are to develop an effective intervention and to make informed decisions. The purpose of gathering data is to improve the efficacy, relevance and efficiency of our intervention.

The data you collect tells the story of the target behaviour and there are different ways of gathering this information. We can use indirect assessments, such as questionnaires and interviews with the individual who exhibits the behaviour or people close to the individual (a parent, teacher or caregiver). However, indirect assessments and anecdotal information, such as general notes on the behaviour, can be subjective and inaccurate. Therefore, whenever possible, it’s preferable to use direct assessments such as direct observation of the behaviour in the natural environment. This allows us to record the behaviour as it occurs and get a very clear picture of what’s happening. Once we implement a plan to decrease the challenging behaviour, the information gathered from direct assessments will give us precise information about whether we have achieved the desired result.

As mentioned above, it’s important to get data on the target behaviour before we implement a plan. This is referred to as a baseline. Once you implement the plan, continue to take data and compare this to the baseline data to see if the behaviour is decreasing. Although data can tell us a lot about a behaviour, such as the frequency or severity of challenging behaviour, when something is going well, the progress on a goal or when a skill has been mastered, it does not necessary need to be complicated. Remember, in order for data to be effective, it needs to be taken regularly, immediately and accurately.

One of the most common and easiest ways of collecting information is to collect frequency on the target behaviour. This is simply a count of how often the behaviour is occurring. For example, if you’re tracking how often aggression occurs, you could simply put a tick mark or a tally on the data sheet whenever aggression occurred. At the end of the day, count how many times it happened.

Challenging Behaviour

If you’re dealing with a behaviour like long tantrums or crying, you may want to record the duration of the target behaviour instead of the frequency. Here’s an example:


Scatter plots are another way of taking data. With this method, you use a datasheet that has the day broken up into intervals. Simply indicate whether or not the behaviour occurred in that particular interval of time. Scatter plots can be very useful in determining possible patterns of behaviour. For example, if we see that the individual is engaging in problem behaviour every day right before lunch, we may determine that the problem behaviour is occurring because the individual is hungry and is not able to request to eat.

Food Chart

Another method is functional assessment data collection or ABC recording. Using this type of system, you record the antecedents (what occurs just prior to the target behaviour) as well as the behaviour in question and the consequences (what occurs immediately following the target behaviour). Having some information on the antecedents and consequences to the problem behaviour can be very helpful in determining the function of the target behaviour or the reason why the behaviour is occurring.

behaviour chart

incident chart

After collecting a few days or weeks of data regarding a specific behaviour, you should be able to determine the function of the behaviour. Use the data collected to help you evaluate, plan and modify. Remember, keep it simple, be consistent and accurate in your data collection and use the information to evaluate your plan and modify if needed.

hitting chart