The Relationship Between ABA and Positive Behavior Support

The Relationship Between ABA and Positive Behavior Support2017-08-06T04:16:19+00:00

Project Description

ABA offers a framework to help us understand how behavior functions for an individual. To do this, we implement data-based assessment. Subsequently we link the outcome of the assessment to support strategies. Without the evolution of ABA, PBS would not exist. Functional assessment provides a good example of how aspects of PBS were derived from the principles of ABA.

Establishing an Operational Definition

One of the first steps of completing a functional assessment is to define the problem behavior(s) in observable and measurable terms. This is known as an operational definition. A solid operational definition of a problem behavior is key to ensure:

  • Consistency: that all team members are talking about the same thing
  • Objectivity: that all team members refer to the problem behavior in the same way
  • Reliability: that recorded observations are the same (or similar) across different observers

An operational definition should be:

  • Objective (measureable, observable)
  • Clear
  • Complete (the boundaries of the behavior are described precisely and there is differentiation between occurrences from non-occurrences of the target behavior)


Criterion What it means Good Example Bad Example
Observable Can it be seen Bites at arms of staff members Is aggressive towards staff members
Measurable Can it be counted reliably Yells “I hate you” at a staff member during dinner Is rude to a staff member during dinner
Repeatable Is the behavior a one time occurrence or representative of a pattern? Hits head against wall Tries to hurt self

Whether applying applied behavior analysis to teaching an individual to safely cross the street or prepare to implement Positive Behavior Support strategies, the operationally defining a behavior is paramount. Before implementing any intervention or support strategy in PBS, it is important to fully understand the relationship between the behavior to be addressed and the environmental circumstances under which it is to be addressed. PBS provides an example of an assessment approach embraced by Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

Functional Behavioral Assessment

In ABA, the occurrence of that behavior in order to determine variables associated with a situation calling for a behavior to be taught there are, generally speaking, three methods for gathering these data:

  • Indirect Assessments
  • Direct Assessments
  • Functional Analysis (ABC)

Briefly we will describe each of these strategies.

  • Indirect assessment means that the individual performing the assessment is not observing behavior as it occurs. Instead, gather information from others who are familiar with the individual based on their retrospective descriptions. A variety of tools can be used to obtain this information, including: checklists, rating scales and interviews.
  • Direct assessment measures involve a prospective interventionist who directly observes the problem behavior and records information on:
  1. antecedents (setting events and discriminative stimuli) –those events that precede the behavior that may be associated with it’s occurrence.
  2. the problem behavior itself
  3. consequences –those actions delivered right after the behavior that may influence its probability of occurrence

Direct assessment measures are an essential component of the functional assessment process because they validate information gathered indirectly and help to provide context for the problem behavior. Below is an example of an ABC chart:

Example: Martin is a 30 year old who lives in a small group home. A functional assessment is being completed in order to address yelling outbursts that occur throughout the day. Below is an excerpt from an A-B-C observation that was completed over the course of two days.

Time/Activity Antecedent Behavior Consequence Function
8:30am/breakfast Staff asks John to set the table John yells “I hate this” Peers laugh, Staff sets table Attention from peers and escape from task
8:35am/breakfast Residents are sitting around a table eating breakfast John yells “I’m outta here” Staff escorts John from the group and gives him an alternate breakfast Escape from task
8:40am/clean up Residents are helping to clear the table John yells “I hate this stuff” Staff removes John from room Escape and attention from aide
8:55am/chores Residents are completing individual assigned chores John begins singing/yelling the incorrect lyrics to the song playing on the radio Peers laugh Attention from peers
9:02am/free time Staff hands John a magazine John yells “I hate this magazine and I hate you” Staff asks John to join him and begins to read to John Attention from teacher/ escape

From, the above data is it not possible to determine the functional relationship between the problem behavior and environmental events. A functional (experimental) analysis must be completed. In a functional analysis, antecedents and consequences are manipulated so that their individual effects on the problem behavior can be determined. The following lesson will discuss functional analyses. Functional analyses demonstrate the importance of establishing causal relationships between a behavior and consequences that follow it.

Functional Analysis

What are they? Functional analyses (also referred to as structured descriptive analyses or SDA’s) are controlled comparisons of at least two different antecedents or two different consequences that are hypothesized to influence the emission of challenging behavior. Oftentimes, a functional analysis is implemented as a standardized protocol that were first discussed by Iwata (1994). The standardized conditions that will be discussed below are commonly referred to as analog conditions; meaning that the conditions are set up out of an individual’s natural environment/context. However, it is important to note that the conditions that are compared during a functional analysis can be customized to specific environments in which an individual has been observed to engage in problem behavior.

Why should they be implemented? To clearly identify specific antecedents and/or consequences influencing challenging behavior that could not be isolated during direct observation. Below are descriptions of the four conditions that are often implemented during a functional analysis implemented for a learner when limited details surrounding the conditions associated with problem behavior are known.

Consequence Manipulations:

Attention Condition: The goal of this condition is to determine whether attention is positively reinforcing problem behavior.

Example: The assessor sits near the individual but is engaged in another activity (e.g., reading a magazine). Whenever any problem behaviors occur, the assessor turns to the individual and gives them a mild reprimand or statement of concern (such as “don’t do that”). He/she then turns away again and only provides attention or social interaction when the problem behavior re-occurs.

Tangible Condition: The purpose of this condition is to determine whether access to a tangible is reinforcing problem behavior.

Example: A highly preferred activity is identified. When the session begins, the item is removed from the individual after they have interacted with it. Upon each occurrence of problem behavior, the item is returned for a period of time (e.g., 30 seconds). Then, once again removed. Behavior maintained by positive reinforcement, is more likely to occur at a high rate.

Escape Condition: The purpose of this condition is to determine whether the problem behavior is maintained by negative reinforcement in the form of escape from the instructional tasks.

Example: A series of tasks are presented. Tasks are based on current academic/ vocational goals identified before the assessment as “difficult” but not impossible to complete.

After problem behavior, the task is removed and a brief break is provided.

Alone Condition: The condition is designed to simulate times when the person is left without anything to do. Presumably, if the behavior was not affected by social consequences.

Example: The individual is left alone. In this condition the behavior will occur across all conditions as well as during the alone condition or the behavior will occur at the highest rate during the alone condition.

Control Condition: This condition serves as a control condition to the test conditions described above in which it is expected that very low levels of problem behavior would occur.

Example: Several preferred activities are available, followed by no tasks presented. The assessor interacts with the individual and provides ongoing positive reinforcement for positive behavior.

For more information on Applied Behavior Analysis visit the Minnesota Northland Association for Behavior Analysis:


For more information on Positive Behavior Support visit Association for Positive Behavior Support and Minnesota (PBISMN) and the Association for Positive Behavior Support (APBS):