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Learning Centre

Module 1: Understanding Behaviour

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In order to teach new behaviours or to decrease challenging ones, you need to understand that is anything a person says or does (i.e., breathing, talking, hitting, eating, crying, etc.) There are lots of things in our environment (stimuli) that can affect our behaviour and we may do things more or less often depending on certain things or people around us.

We know that events that occur before and after behaviour have a big impact on the probability of them happening again. Think of this as the ABCs of behaviour (a behavioural contingency). A stands for Antecedent (i.e., things that happen before behaviour). B stands for Behaviour. C stands for Consequence (i.e. events that occur right after a behaviour has happened). People tend to think that a consequence is a negative thing, but when talking about behaviour in general, consequences are simply whatever occurs after the behaviour.

If we’re going to increase or decrease a behaviour, then we need to know exactly what that behaviour is and define it clearly. This is referred to as an operational definition. The definition helps caregivers, parents or teachers know exactly when the target behaviour has or has not occurred. You should be able to easily observe and measure if a behaviour has happened. For example, if you’re talking about a tantrum, what is considered a tantrum? The more clear the definition, the easier it is to document.

Let’s consider an example. If you’re trying to decrease throwing, you know that you want to eliminate the target behaviour. However, when has throwing occurred and when do we track it? If we simply say, anytime the child throws, you may get questions like, “What if he threw something on the floor and not at a person” or “what if he threw a soft object that can’t hurt anybody?” If you have a clear operational definition right from the get go, you can avoid the confusion. In this case, you could define throwing as: “whenever the child throws any object in the direction of people, other objects, the wall or the floor.”

Remember the 3 ABCs of behaviour (Antecedent – Behaviour – Consequence). When you’re trying to increase or decrease a behaviour, you need to have a clear concise definition of the target behaviour.