Mitigate Behaviors Using Antecedent Strategies: Part 1 - Identification

August 24, 2021
by Danielle Kanouff

Mitigate Behaviors Using Antecedent Strategies: Part 1 - Identification Danielle Kanouff @ 3C

“Antecedent” is a word we’ve learned about in previous ABA blogs. As you recall, antecedents are the event(s) immediately preceding a behavior.


This blog will elaborate on typical and clinical examples of antecedents and determine how to plan or anticipate unwanted behaviors among our patients.


Let’s quickly do an A-B-C (antecedent - behavior - consequence) review for the following example:


You’re at home, feeling thirsty. So you walk to the kitchen cabinet, pull out a glass, fill it up with water, and drink. Ah, sweet relief! You are no longer thirsty.


In this example:

  • The antecedent is your feeling of thirst.
  • The behavior is drinking water.
  • The consequence is your quenched thirst.


You will continue to drink when you are thirsty in the future due to negative reinforcement. Negative is removing the aversive stimuli of thirst; reinforcement is the increased likelihood of filling up a cup of liquid when you experience thirst.


Although nearly everyone experiences this fundamental behavior chain, we want to expand the perspective to prevent troublesome chains from occurring.


Here is a mini case scenario we are currently experiencing across therapeutic and health-related fields that treat children or adolescents:


School is back in session! Jamie is a 12-year-old who has autism spectrum disorder. He spent most of the summer hanging out at home, watching videos on a tablet, and eating little meals throughout the day. He didn’t engage in any notable problematic behaviors unless it involved his brother attempting to take his tablet or he was required to leave the house for a doctor’s appointment.


Now, it’s time to return to school - the first week or two is going to be quite an adjustment. Early mornings. Bus rides. Interacting with more people. Designated areas and times of day to eat. This new routine requires more demands and restrictions.


Before school starts, Jamie’s team should prevent maladaptive behaviors from occurring by anticipating them. Then, if we know the anticipatory behaviors, we can determine appropriate antecedent interventions and strategies.


Below are examples of anticipatory behaviors that could and should be examined before the first day of school.

  • Difficulty sleeping before school
  • Verbal refusal (“I’m not going to…”)
  • Stalling behavior (hides backpack to avoid going on the bus)
  • Perseverates on previous school experiences (aversive bus rides, limited breaks while in school)
  • Limited access to preferred technology


Have you ever experienced behaviors similar to these with your patients or even your children?


Once a behavior occurs, it’s too late! The more we can anticipate and predict a potential behavior from escalating, the more prepared we are to prevent it from happening. 


It takes time and familiarity with the person of interest to determine what to anticipate and under what circumstances when ‘it’ may happen.


Now that Jamie’s anticipatory behaviors have been identified, the team can move toward antecedent adjustments. In addition to adjustments, interventions can also be set forth at the outset of the new school year.


To find out what Jamie’s new teachers can do to help him, keep a lookout for Antecedent Strategies: A Guide to Dealing with Behaviors in a Proactive Way- Part 2!


In the meantime, think of a target behavior you engage in to get or to avoid something. This applies to yourself, your child, or someone close to you. Once you pick a target behavior, try identifying three anticipatory behaviors.


For me, I sometimes avoid far-off work deadlines by cleaning my house, walking my dogs, or taking a trip to the grocery store. Sometimes I put less mental effort into more manageable tasks than the task at hand. In this instance, I’m engaging in “avoidance maintained behavior”! The actions are my anticipatory behaviors.


Do you ever engage in avoidance maintained behaviors? What are you avoiding?  What do you do when this happens?  Now, keep this list and return to my next blog post, where I will share how you can apply antecedent adjustment strategies for those anticipatory behaviors!


Thanks for reading,


Let's stay connected, receive my blog directly to your email.

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.
Scroll to Top