The field of Applied Behavior Analysis relies heavily on accurate data to make informed treatment decisions. Professionals commonly collect frequency and rate data to track behaviors that have a distinct beginning and end.
Although frequency and rate data provide important information about the occurrence of behaviors, practitioners in the field often struggle with accurately collecting the data. Let’s take a look at some creative solutions to make data collection easier and more discrete.
Obstacles for Collecting Frequency Data
Identifying the obstacles to accurate data collection helps reveal creative solutions to over come them. While you may experience specific obstacles in your practice, two obstacles seem to occur across various types of ABA programs. Often staff have the most difficulty in accurate data collection when they need to collect frequency data for high frequency behaviors or when the act of collecting the data becomes reinforcing for the child.
High Frequency Behaviors
Many children with autism engage in a variety of maladaptive behaviors that occur at too high a rate. Often behavior change occurs gradually over time. In order to determine the effectiveness of a behavior reduction plan, the data that are collected must be accurate. Although frequency and rate data collection may not be the most practical method for collecting data for high frequency behaviors, it is the most sensitive to behavior change, provided that the data are accurate.
Data Collection Becomes Reinforcing
Many children with autism don’t pay attention to data being collected by a professional. Other children find any form of attention motivating. When these children associate their behavior with the behavior of staff, the result may be an increase in this behavior. Traditional data collection techniques require staff to distinctly make some type of mark or electronic record. These methods lack the subtlety needed for children attuned to staff behavior.
Data Collection Techniques
Here are 5 options for easier and more discrete data collection. Each of these techniques offers its own unique advantages and disadvantages. Try them and see what works best for you!
1. Clicker Counters
Clicker counters are a great tool for counting high frequency behaviors and can easily be used to calculate rate (just calculate frequency/time). These clickers are a great way to track a variety of behaviors that occur frequently. You simply assign each behavior a color and click when the behavior occurs. They include a hook that you attach to a carabiner so you can attach them to a pocket or belt loop. These are affordable and available on Amazon . Their major disadvantage is the clicking sound that they make. Avoid these for children whose behavior is reinforced by staff collecting data.
Alternatively, digital finger counters provide the subtly you may need, but these counters can be sensitive and you risk counting behavior that doesn’t occur. If worn on a thumb, you may be less likely to accidentally hit the button. Again, these handy tools are inexpensive and easy to find on Amazon .
2. Small Objects in Pockets
Check out this low-tech option for tracking the occurrence of behavior. Put a collection of small objects in one pocket. As behavior occurs, transfer the corresponding number from that pocket into the other pocket.
This method offers some subtlety for well trained staff. To optimize discretion, staff put their hand in their pocket and carefully scoop one item into their hand as behavior occurs. Once the child looks away, staff move the items from that pocket to the other. The more frequently the behavior occurs, the smaller the objects must be.
With this option, you risk accidentally dropping the items either back into the original pocket or on the floor when transferring them. In addition, you must count each item at the end of the session. While this creates additional work, it may be the best short-term option if you need a low-tech, discrete data collection method.
3. Beads on a Pipe Cleaner
Sliding beads on a pipe cleaner offers another low-tech option for frequency data collection. When done well, it appears as though staff are simply fidgeting with the beads or doing a craft while not attending to the child’s behavior. Staff can slide a group of beads onto the top of the pipe cleaner and as behavior occurs, slide the beads to the bottom.
While this option may be reinforcing for staff as it can offer a calming effect for some, children may pick up on the fact that each time behavior occurs, staff pick up the beads. There are 2 ways to combat this effect: rotate between different low-tech options or have staff play with the beads throughout the day when behavior does not occur.
Technology offers a broad array of options from simple to complex. Many apps provide access to different methods to tally behavior as it occurs. Some apps export or graph this data for you as well. A simpler option is to open a note taking app and add an emoji or other character each time the behavior occurs.
Similar to the small objects method, this method requires staff to count the occurrences at the end of the session. This method offers some other nice advantages for children who attend to staff behavior. Adults on technology (phones, tablets or computers) is so common place that it essentially becomes unnoticeable to many children. In addition, children who are motivated by technology may be unpleased to see that the adult has found her own entertainment while he engages in the behavior.
5. Small Elastics on Fingers
A final low-tech and inexpensive option is to place small elastics on your fingers (hair elastics intended for young children work well). Place spares on one hand and as behavior occurs, roll them over to the other hand. To the child, this may appear as simple fidgeting.
This method may be inefficient for behaviors that occur at a very high frequency. In addition, some staff may find them uncomfortable on their fingers. This system also requires staff to count each elastic at the end of the session. Despite these disadvantages, you may find that this method works best for your specific circumstances.
Choose an Alternative Data Collection System
There are many different data collection methods available to choose from. Frequency data, although sensitive to behavior change, can be difficult to collect accurately. Often, interval data offers more advantages for high frequency behaviors, even though it is less sensitive to behavior change. For more information on choosing the right data collection system, read the post: How do I Choose the Right Data Collection Method for my ABA Program?