Master ABA

Antecedent Interventions: Complete Guide

Collecting ABC data helps us understand behavior in context. Reinforcement and other consequence interventions are a cornerstone of ABA (see Understanding Consequence Interventions: Punishment vs Reinforcement). Here we dive a little deeper into using the first part of the 3 term contingency – Antecedent interventions.

Begin by collecting ABC data to help you identify some frequent antecedents.  This is whatever happens within the minute prior to the behavior.  Then use antecedent interventions to make the behavior less likely to occur.  This can include:

  • Visuals
  • Behavioral Momentum
  • Shared Control
  • Errorless Learning
  • Environmental Modifications
  • Priming
  • Task Interspersal
  • Noncontingent Reinforcement

Read our post ABC Data: The Key to Understanding Behavior for a discussion on ABC data and antecedents.

Obtaining Assent

Assent is a learner’s agreement to participate in an intervention. It is important to obtain assent from learners during ABA interventions, even those with limited communicative ability. Assent can be obtained in a variety of ways, depending on the learner’s individual needs and preferences.

One way to obtain assent is to ask the learner directly if they want to participate in the intervention. The practitioner should use simple language and be clear about what the intervention will involve. If the learner is nonverbal, the practitioner can use gestures or other methods of communication to ask for and observe assent.

Another way to obtain assent is to offer the learner a choice. For example, the practitioner could say, “Would you like to do this activity with me or with your parent?” This gives the learner a sense of control and allows them to express their preferences.

It is also important to respect the learner’s decision, even if they choose not to participate in the intervention. The practitioner should evaluate the intervention or activity to determine why the learner might have withdrawn assent. By changing the intervention, activity or even the timing of the presentation, the practitioner may be able to obtain assent at another opportunity.

There are a number of benefits to obtaining assent from learners during ABA interventions. First, it shows respect for the learner’s autonomy and right to make their own decisions. Second, it can help to build trust and rapport between the learner and the practitioner. Third, it can increase the learner’s motivation to participate in the intervention.

Assent can be obtained from learners with all levels of communicative ability. For example, a learner who can speak can simply say “yes” or “no” to indicate their assent or assent withdrawal. A learner who is nonverbal may use gestures, facial expressions, or body positioning to indicate their assent. The learner can also use other methods of communication, such as AAC assent from learners who are nonverbal.

As with any treatment, the strategies discussed here should only be used with the assent of the learner. Read our post Understanding Assent and Assent Withdrawal in ABA for more information on how and why to obtain assent.


People Are Not Puppets Antecedent Strategies Visuals Behavioral Momentum Shared Control Errorless Learning (Prompting) Environmental Modifications Priming Task Interspersal Noncontingent Reinforcement Key Points

Related Posts

People Are Not Puppets

Have you heard the expression, “you can’t change what someone else does, you can only change your reaction to what they do?” People are not puppets, so we can’t change behavior directly. This is the basis for identifying ABC data. By understanding why the child does what they do, you can change the circumstances around that behavior to influence how the child chooses to behave.

As the saying above suggests, what we can control are the conditions surrounding the behavior, the antecedents and the consequences. Changing the consequence changes the frequency, intensity or duration of a particular behavior. Altering the antecedents makes a behavior more or less likely to occur.

The objective isn’t to control or manipulate the individual, but rather to structure their environment so that it’s favorable for them to make better choices. We all sometimes have to do things we don’t want to do. Finding what motivates ourselves can help us get up early, go to the gym, cook dinner, clean and do all the other tasks that aren’t enjoyable. The same is true for the individuals we support.

In this article, we will focus on the antecedents, specifically how to use antecedent interventions to make challenging behavior less likely to happen.

As with any ABA strategy, collect data first. Find out:

  • When is the behavior most likely to occur?   
  • When is the behavior least likely to occur?
  • What happens right before the behavior?
  • Who is present when the behavior occurs?
  • What are the conditions in the room when the behavior occurs?

Look at a variety of factors

We often look for triggers such as a demand being placed or being denied access to something a child wants. While these are common antecedents, there are many other factors that contribute to behavior occurring. There may be times when you feel that the behavior “comes out of nowhere.” The reality is that there is always an antecedent, it just might not always be obvious. Consider factors such as:

  • Adults present or absent in the environment
  • Noise level
  • Level of visual stimulation
  • Changes in routine, even subtle changes
  • Social expectations
  • Child’s perception of a demand, even when none was actually placed
  • Is the behavior part of a behavior chain?
  • Unstructured time
  • Attention restricted, even for a brief period of time

Continue to collect ABC data until you start to see a pattern emerge. Don’t expect that the antecedent will be the same every time, but look to see what most often happens right before the behavior you’re interested in. This will help you choose antecedent strategies that are most likely to be effective.

Back to Top

Antecedent Strategies

ABA offers many strategies that can be used to alter antecedent conditions. The pattern in your ABC data collection should help you choose the best one for the situation.

Back to Top


It’s well documented that many individuals with autism process visual information better than auditory information. Even when children respond to verbal directions, consistently presenting information visually may reduce challenging behavior.

Using visual schedules presents a clear representation of expectations. This visual can be in the form of pictures, drawings, a written list, or even a planner/calendar. Presenting information visually reduces confusion.

What if your client doesn’t need visuals?

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that a child “no longer needs” a visual schedule because he has learned his routine or he is able to follow verbal directions.

Visual schedules should be taught as a life-long tool for self-management. The type of schedule changes as the child grows and develops, but it shouldn’t be abandoned. Consider all of the visual cues and schedules you use yourself: your calendar or planner, lists, reminders on your phone, or even placing something next to the door. If these tools are useful for you, why would you assume that a child with autism has outgrown the need for them?

Rather than giving up the use of visual supports, consider teaching your client to be more independent with them. Teach him to create his own schedule or to change the schedule as he completes tasks. The visuals can significantly reduce the need for adult intervention.

When to use visuals

So when should you use visuals? Understand your client’s antecedents to help you determine which visuals will provide the most benefits.

  • Are transitions a common trigger? Try using a visual schedule that utilizes the Premack Principle (first/then). See our post Premack Principle: A Guide to Using the First/Then Rule for information on implementing this intervention.
  • Does challenging behavior occur during unstructured time? Use a play schedule to help your client stay on task.
  • Do social interactions trigger eloping? Try a visually represented task analysis of a social interaction so your client knows exactly what his role is.

For children who struggle with staying on-task, schedules can be the prompt they need to achieve success. Make sure that your expectations are developmentally appropriate for your client. Use visual schedules for on-task behavior when the child you work with:

  • Is easily distracted
  • Moves quickly between activities
  • Resists completing tasks that are non-preferred
  • Struggles to get or stay organized
  • Needs frequent reminders
  • Doesn’t prioritize tasks well

Types of visuals

By the term “visual” schedule I don’t mean that the schedule must contain pictures. The schedule might include a written list of activities to complete in a sequence. For individuals who successfully complete routine activities without a schedule, you might choose a planner that shows a week or a month view to assist with non-routine activities like appointments or other changes to the usual routine.

Some children need a simple schedule that shows just what the demand is followed by something they want (often referred to as a first/then board). Other children benefit from seeing a longer series of activities they need to complete.

For young children who don’t read, pictures work best. Some children respond best to photographs, others need the clearer line-drawn images from a program such as Boardmaker or an alternative program. If you don’t have access to the technology to make these images, some children benefit from your own line drawings on a dry erase board.

Watch this video example of using the scheduling app Choiceworks to help a learner engage in activities:

Teaching independence with visual schedules

As with teaching any skill, you need a plan for teaching your client to use schedules independently. Don’t assume independence will magically develop or that a child needs help with a schedule forever. Many children can learn to not only follow a schedule, but create their own schedule when given the tools.

Break the skill down into teachable components. It’s generally best to teach the child to use the schedule to transition between activities. Teach the child to move the icon from the “to-do” part of the schedule to an “all done” part (either a separate column, the back of the schedule or a separate done container). Gradually, you can teach the child to build the schedule by adding icons to the “to-do” part.

Make sure that you plan for reinforcement. Many children, especially children with autism, need reinforcement other than the satisfaction of completing a task or social praise. Identify potential reinforcers by conducting a preference assessment. Use a schedule of reinforcement consistent with each child’s specific needs.

Tools for making visual schedules

The tools you need to create your visual schedules varies dramatically depending on the needs and abilities of your client. Some children who read need only a piece of paper and a pencil to create their schedule. If you can make some basic line drawings, you can use these tools for creating simple pictures on the fly.

When working with young children or children who respond best to pictures, you may need access to some form of technology. Many of the images you need you can find on Google images. Simply copy them into a Word document and resize them (usually around 1 1/2 inches square is an ideal size). Print them, cut them out, then laminate them. Add a bit of hook and loop fastener and you are ready to go.

If you have at least a small budget, you can make this project a lot faster by buying a subscription to different image making programs. Boardmaker is one of the most familiar and user-friendly programs on the market, but it comes with a slightly higher price tag ($99/year). Boardmaker allows you to add pictures right from Google images making it quick and easy to create any of the images you need.

Alternative programs are emerging, but they are a bit more cumbersome to use. offers access to over 40,000 images for $36/year. There are fun things you can create with this program, but you need to take some time to learn how to use the program. offers a subscription-based service and access to over 21,000 images for $45/year. With this program you must download the images and add them to another program (i.e. PowerPoint, Keynote) in order to create the images.

Scheduling Apps

Many apps are available to help you create schedules in the moment. These apps usually have some stock images available as well as the ability to add your own images through the camera function on your tablet or phone. Each app offers different features and many are only available for specific markets (i.e. iOS, Android, etc.).

My all-time favorite scheduling app is sadly only available for the iOS market. Check out Choiceworks. It’s well worth the $6.99 price tag as it will save you hundreds of dollars of materials trying to make the images by hand. You can create schedules in minutes, easily make changes, and add a timer to each activity (a feature that’s not commonly available).

Learn more about using visuals

Many research studies have demonstrated the benefits of using visuals to support adaptive behavior. For further reading, check out these articles available free online:

Cramer, M., Hirano, S. H., Tentori, M., Yeganyan, M. T., & Hayes, G. R. (2011, May). Classroom-based assistive technology: collective use of interactive visual schedules by students with autism. In CHI (Vol. 11, pp. 1-10).

Dettmer, S., Simpson, R. L., Myles, B. S., & Ganz, J. B. (2000). The use of visual supports to facilitate transitions of students with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 15(3), 163-169.

Lequia, J., Machalicek, W., & Rispoli, M. J. (2012). Effects of activity schedules on challenging behavior exhibited in children with autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6(1), 480-492.

Back to Top

Behavioral Momentum

When using behavioral momentum, you precede a difficult task (low probability or low P behavior) with several easy tasks (high probability or high P behaviors). This high P/low P sequence leads to the child achieving small reinforcement for the high P behaviors. This small reinforcement builds momentum and increases the likelihood of the low P behavior occurring. Our post Behavioral Momentum for Children with Autism explains this step-by-step.

This is similar to what a sales person does. When a sales person tries to encourage someone to buy a product or service, she will start by asking several questions you are likely to say “yes” to. Here’s an example:

The sales person

You walk into a technology store looking for a basic computer. The sales person, who works on commission, greets you at the door with a welcoming smile. She is ready to lend a hand in helping you find the exact right computer for you. She begins by asking you what you plan to do with the computer. The sales person shows you several base models that would suit your purposes just fine. Then she asks you some questions:

Sales person: These basic models will do some simple processing for you, but I want to make sure you’re getting the best value for your money. You want something that will be reliable, right?

You: Well, yes.

Sales person: You want something that will last several years without being outdated, right?

You: Of course.

Sales person: Great, let me show you one of these computers over here. They are a little more expensive, and then we can talk printers and accessories!

The sales person understands that by asking these leading questions she is building momentum by getting you to say yes. Let’s look at another example.

The ABA practitioner

You know that getting your client to line up with his class is always a struggle. You decide to try behavioral momentum.

Your client is sitting at the table playing with some toys when the teacher announces that it’s time to line up. Before telling your client it’s time to line up, you get his attention and tell him to clap his hands. As he has mastered this Listener Responding (LR) program and enjoys clapping his hands, he responds by clapping his hands and you say, “great clapping!” You then ask him to jump, then spin and finally tell him to line up. By using this series of 3 high P tasks prior to issuing the final low P demand, your client is much more likely to comply.

When to use behavioral momentum

Behavioral momentum is most effective when the identified antecedent is some form of task demand. Think about those demands that are most likely to trigger refusal or other challenging behaviors. Would it be possible to insert a sequence of high P behaviors prior to:

  • Transitions
  • Taking a bite of a less preferred food
  • Announcing a change in routine or expectation

Our post Behavioral Momentum for Children with Autism explains more.

Learn more about behavioral momentum

Silla-Zaleski, V. A., & Vesloski, M. J. (2010). Using DRO, behavioral momentum, and self-regulation to reduce scripting by an adolescent with autismThe Journal of Speech and Language Pathology–Applied Behavior Analysis5(1), 80.

Ledford, J. R., & Gast, D. L. (2006). Feeding problems in children with autism spectrum disorders: A reviewFocus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities21(3), 153-166.

Kelly, L., & Holloway, J. (2015). An investigation of the effectiveness of Behavioral Momentum on the acquisition and fluency outcomes of tacts in three children with Autism Spectrum DisorderResearch in Autism Spectrum Disorders9, 182-192.

Back to Top

Errorless Learning (Prompting)

Errorless learning (EL) minimizes opportunities for errors, increasing the frequency at which the student encounters reinforcement. Minimizing errors also reduces the likelihood that the student engages in challenging behavior.  It also reduces the likelihood your student will learn an incorrect behavior chain.

Prompts are selected based on the prompt hierarchy.  Often, prompting begins with the least intrusive prompt that will get the desired response, however some applications may begin with the most intrusive prompts. See our post Errorless Learning: Complete Guide to learn about this distinction.

When to use Errorless Learning

Although Errorless learning has many advantages. If not implemented correctly learners can fail to learn the target skill and instead become dependent on the prompts. Therefore, this intervention should be used with caution. Only use this intervention if you’re confident in your ability to quickly fade the prompts as your learner gains proficiency.

Learn more about Errorless Learning (Prompting)

Read our post Errorless Learning: Complete Guide to learn more about this antecedent intervention.

Shared Control

Shared control is essentially just what it sounds like. It’s a method of using limited choices to increase an individual’s cooperation. Offering choices allows the client to have some decision-making abilities without eliminating demands entirely.

The key here is the word “shared.” You are not allowing your client to run the sessions. You are letting him have a say in areas of your choosing.

Here’s what I mean:

Correct: “Johnny, do you want to clean up the red blocks first or the blue blocks?”

Incorrect: “Johnny, do you want to clean up the blocks or keep playing?”

Correct: “Do you want to hold my left hand or my right hand in the parking lot?”

Incorrect: “Do you want to hold my hand or walk on your own?”

Correct: “Do you want to do the counting worksheet or the shapes worksheet first?”

Incorrect: “Do you want to do math or recess now?”

You get the picture. The important thing to remember is that the 2 choices must be equally acceptable to you, not the client. In each situation, what do you need the client to do? Get creative with your choices.

Examples for Families

It takes some practice to get the choices right and the caregivers you work with may need some guidance. Here are some examples of some common activities your families may be working on with your learner. Use these as a starting point to offer choices for any number of activities.

Brushing Teeth

Your 3-year-old fights you every time you try to brush her teeth. You decide to teach her to brush them herself. You can offer these choices:

  • Type of toothpaste
  • Different toothbrushes
  • Whether to brush the top of the bottom first
  • Whether you or your child brushes first
What to Say
Say ThisNot This
“Do you want to use the bubble gum toothpaste or mint?”“Do you want to brush your teeth now or later?”
“Do you want to use the Mickey toothbrush or the Paw Patrol one?”“Are you ready to brush your teeth?”

Get Dressed

Your 5-year-old has a tantrum every morning when it’s time to get dressed. Instead of just telling him to get dressed you can offer him these choices:

  • Choice of clothes
  • Pants first or shirt
What to Say
Say This Not This
“Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue?”“Are you ready to get dressed?”
“Do you want to put on your pants first or your shirt?”“Do you want to get dressed or keep playing?”


You want to keep your 4-year-old safe in the parking lot (this is a safety concern and can’t be a choice for him), so you can offer these choices:

  • What to hold onto
  • Walk or ride in a stroller
What to Say
Say This Not This
“Do you want to hold my hand or do you want me to hold on to your jacket? ““Do you want to hold my or walk next to me?”
“Do you want to hold my left hand or my right?”“Do you want to hold my hand?”

At the Grocery Store

Your teenager has trouble walking through the grocery store, but you want to work on his tolerance so he can buy groceries as an adult. Here are some choices you can build into the trip:

  • How to help or participate
  • Go to the produce or the grocery department first
  • Some of the food that is added to the list
  • Which checkout line to stand in
What to Say
Say This Not This
“Do you want to push the cart or hold the list? ““Do you want to push the cart?”
“Do you want to go to this lane or that one?”“Are you ready to get in line?”

Folding Laundry

You’re teaching your ten-year-old to fold laundry (an important skill to build independence), so you can offer these choices:

  • Sort the clothes first or fold each item one at a time
  • Fold shirts or hang them in a closet
  • Ball socks or roll the ends
What to Say
Say This Not This
“Do you want to fold the shirts or pants first? ““Do you want to help fold the laundry?”
“Do you want to hang up your shirts or fold them?”“Do you want to fold your shirts?”

You get the idea.  With some creativity, you can build choice into any activity and create some peace with your child.

How to teach shared control

Your learner may not make a choice right away.  This might mean that you first need to teach him how to make a choice before you begin using this regularly.  Here’s the basics of how to teach choice making:

  • Offer him a choice between something you know he will want and something you absolutely know he does not want (i.e. “Do you want this piece of candy or this onion?”). 
  • Over time, gradually build to where the items are closer in preference. 
  • You know what your child prefers better than anyone, so making a list for others to use may be helpful.  Create lots of opportunities to practice.

Here are some tips to make it work:

  • Use whatever means of communication works for your child.  Some children will be able to respond to your verbal question.  Others may need choices presented to them with pictures.  There are some apps available which you could use to visually depict available choices.  These apps are significantly easier to use than trying to ensure you have all of the Boardmaker pictures you need at any given time.
  • Limit your choices to just 2 at a time, especially at first.  As your child becomes more proficient with this, you may be able to expand the number of choices you offer.
  • Don’t ask “Do you want to…” or “Will you…”  You are not giving him a choice of cooperating with you, just a choice in how it will happen.
  • Remain calm and be patient. 

When to use shared control

Shared control is another intervention that is useful when the antecedent is some form of a demand or transition. Again, you want to look at the specific antecedents that trigger challenging behavior such as:

  • Do you need him to practice a greeting? Offer a choice between saying “hi” or waving.
  • Need her to use the bathroom? Offer a choice between stalls.
  • Do you need him to use a play schedule? Offer him a choice of the sequence of activities.
  • Do you need him to sit at the table? Offer him a choice of chairs to sit in.
  • Need her to build a block tower? Offer her a choice between 2 blocks to add to the tower.

Learn more about shared control

Shared control can be a powerful tool for a variety of purposes. It is often also referred to as choice or choice-making in research articles.

Ulke‐Kurkcuoglu, B., & Kircaali‐Iftar, G. (2010). A comparison of the effects of providing activity and material choice to children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 43(4), 717-721.

Watanabe, M., & Sturmey, P. (2003). The effect of choice-making opportunities during activity schedules on task engagement of adults with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33(5), 535-538.

Back to Top

Environmental Modifications

After analyzing the ABC data, you might discover that there are some elements in the environment that either evokes challenging behavior or otherwise continues to support it. Modifying the environment can mitigate these effects.

Go back to your ABC data. Take a look at the common antecedents. Are there changes you can make to the environment that will help your client be more successful while you look to build tolerance or other skills?

Think about what the most common triggers or factors that contribute to other antecedents and consider if there is a way to modify the environment to address this. When making environmental modifications you will also want to have a plan for teaching your client to accept a variety of conditions in the environment.

When to use environmental modification

Modify the environment when the antecedents can be impacted by changes in the environment such as:

  • If your client frequently elopes from the table, arrange the furniture so that his chair is situated in a corner.
  • Move objects that are easily thrown out of reach.
  • If the fluorescent lights are too stimulating for your client, get light covers to mask them.
  • Use a visual or mat to identify personal space at circle time.
  • Cover the floor in the treatment room with mats for a child who engages in frequent head banging on the floor.

Learn more about environmental modification

Below are some research articles to provide you with more information. A lot of the information currently available that addresses sensory needs of children is from the field of Occupational Therapy which doesn’t adhere to the same empirical standards as Applied Behavior Analysis. While the reading may provide some insight, use caution when attempting to utilize recommendations.

Neitzel, J. (2010). Positive behavior supports for children and youth with autism spectrum disorders. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 54(4), 247-255.

Kinnealey, M., Pfeiffer, B., Miller, J., Roan, C., Shoener, R., & Ellner, M. L. (2012). Effect of classroom modification on attention and engagement of students with autism or dyspraxia. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66(5), 511-519.

Bagatell, N., Mirigliani, G., Patterson, C., Reyes, Y., & Test, L. (2010). Effectiveness of therapy ball chairs on classroom participation in children with autism spectrum disorders. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64(6), 895-903.

Back to Top


Task demands are frequent antecedents to challenging behavior for a variety of reasons.  Priming helps prepare learners for the expectations for upcoming activities before they occur.  When you use priming, you preview information or an activity that a learner might struggle with by providing an advanced copy of the information, allowing the learner to look at materials or learn about activities beforehand, explaining the expectations of the activity or watching a video of someone else completing the activity.

When to use Priming

Although priming may be an effective antecedent intervention, you must carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages before deciding to include this in your intervention package. 

May reduce anxiety for some learnersMay increase anxiety for some learners
Provides the opportunity to practice May provoke challenging behavior
May reduce disruptive behavior Requires some prerequisite skills
May reduce challenging behavior for certain tasksRequires advanced planning and 1:1 time with learner
Requires specific knowledge of common triggers


Priming may reduce anxiety for some learners. When your learner knows what to expect, often this can stop them from worrying about the “unknown.” Priming provides the opportunity to practice the skills that will be needed, allowing the learner to feel more comfortable when it’s time for the activity.

Additionally, research shows that it may reduce disruptive behavior during transitions since learners can anticipate the end of their current task. And priming may reduce challenging behavior that is in response to the presentation of difficult tasks. 


Although there are many benefits for some students, keep these disadvantages in mind. Priming may increase anxiety for some learners. Every individual is unique. While some find knowing exactly what to expect to be a relief, the same information may cause other individuals to experience greater fear. It also requires specific knowledge of common triggers so that these can be addressed prior to the activity. If the wrong information is presented, this can lead to increasing anxiety instead of decreasing it.

Priming may also provoke challenging behavior brought on by increased anxiety. Furthermore, it requires some prerequisite skills such as attending which might make it inappropriate for some learners. The advanced planning and 1:1 time required with the learner that may also prove to be impractical.

Use priming when task demands are common antecedents to challenging behavior, your learner struggles with new activities or an activity has triggered challenging behavior in the past.  Some examples of when you might choose to use priming include preparing for a large assembly, before a school vacation, getting ready for a fire drill, or before group activities such as reading a story or playing a game.

Back to Top

Task Interspersal

Difficult tasks are a common antecedent to challenging behavior.  Task Interspersal uses a mix of easy and hard tasks to reduce this reaction to teaching targets.  This intervention improves proficiency and fluency with mastered skills, compliance in completing more difficult tasks, and on-task behavior by reducing feelings of frustration and failure.

When to use Task Interspersal

Use Task Interspersal when task demands trigger challenging behavior, your learner struggles to attend to new tasks or your learner needs to complete many easy tasks.  When you add a few challenging tasks, he may be more interested and motivated to complete the easy tasks.

Back to Top

Noncontingent Reinforcement

While reinforcement is technically a consequent intervention, I include noncontingent reinforcement (NCR) here as an opportunity to decrease motivation to engage in the challenging behavior. Noncontingent reinforcement is the delivery of a specified reinforcer at a high enough frequency to alleviate motivation to engage in challenging behavior to access the reinforcer. Access to the reinforcer is delivered prior to the onset of the target behavior.

For example, if your client engages in challenging behavior when your attention is diverted (i.e. you’re having a conversation with another therapist to identify a group activity), you may choose to allow your client to sit on your lap during the conversation. Doing so may provide access to the attention she wants in sufficient quantity so that she no longer needs to engage in challenging behavior to access your attention.

Another example: if your client engages in challenging behavior in order to access his favorite activity (i.e. bubbles), you can provide access to the activity on a rich schedule. The child is likely to become satiated on the activity and this will reduce the motivation to engage in the challenging behavior to access the activity.

When to use noncontingent reinforcement

It’s critical to examine the risks and benefits of using noncontingent reinforcement with your child prior to implementing this intervention. Be aware of the high risk of reinforcing undesirable behavior when utilizing this strategy, among other risks. Research whether noncontingent reinforcement is right for your client when:

  • You need an intervention that is not labor intensive.
  • You need an intervention that requires minimal training.
  • The risk of extinction burst is greater than the risk of inadvertently. reinforcing other maladaptive behavior.
  • You are able to closely monitor the thinning of reinforcement schedule.

Learn more about noncontingent reinforcement

This can sound confusing at first, especially if you are used to providing reinforcement contingent on the client producing some specified behavior.

Lalli, J. S., Casey, S. D., & Kates, K. (1997). Noncontingent reinforcement as treatment for severe problem behavior: Some procedural variationsJournal of Applied Behavior Analysis30(1), 127-137.

Hagopian, L. P., Fisher, W. W., & Legacy, S. M. (1994). Schedule effects of noncontingent reinforcement on attention‐maintained destructive behavior in identical quadrupletsJournal of Applied Behavior Analysis27(2), 317-325.

Back to Top

Key Points

  • Do not wait until challenging behavior occurs to begin using these strategies. Doing so can (and most likely will) result in an unwanted behavior chain where your client engages in challenging behaviors in order to access the tools he needs.
  • Always follow any written behavior plan for your client and consult with a BCBA prior to making any changes to treatment. The information here is provided to help further your understanding of the importance of antecedent interventions as a way to reduce challenging behavior.
  • There are many other antecedent interventions that can help minimize challenging behavior. Do your research when choosing the interventions you plan to implement


The key to breaking free from billable hours

and insurance companies.

"*" indicates required fields

First Name*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Wait! You almost missed it!

This course is NOT available outside our membership

…unless you subscribe.

"*" indicates required fields

First Name*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.