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Written by Rebecca Bardenhagen, M.Ed. and Lakshmi Mahadevan, Ph.D.

Parents/guardians of children with special needs may deal with challenging behaviors on a regular basis. Service providers can offer ideas and resources so that families can limit undesirable behaviors and increase the occurrence of desirable behaviors. A helpful technique that service providers can familiarize parents with is completing an “ABC” chart. Below is an explanation of the steps for this process.

What is an ABC (Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence) chart?

An ABC chart is used to collect information about an undesirable behavior.  It investigates (The University of Kansas, n.d.):

A – the antecedent, what happens immediately before the behavior?

B– the behavior, what is the observed behavior?

C– the consequence, what is the response that immediately follows the behavior?

What are the steps in collecting information for the ABC chart?

Step 1: Write down a specific definition of the problem behavior including the following:

Who is present when the behavior occurs? (Ex: dad, sister)

When does the behavior occur? (Ex. each evening when dad gets home)

Where does the behavior occur? (Ex. at the dinner table)                                                                               

Step 2: Collect information about the behavior.

In this step, information is gathered about what is specifically happening.  Observations regarding the following should be gathered (South Bend Community School Corporation, 2016):

Frequency: How often does the behavior happen? (Ex: twice a day, Friday afternoons)

Duration: How long does the behavior last from beginning to end? (Ex: 2 minutes, 1 hour)

Intensity: How serious/bad does the behavior get? (Ex: stays at whining and complaining, escalates to harming others)

Step 3: Identify why the child is engaging in the behavior.

According to the Georgia State University Center for Leadership in Disability (n.d ), negative behavior is communicating some kind of information to you. It serves a purpose, perhaps to get attention, to avoid an activity, to get a wanted item, or for sensory needs.

Understanding why a child is engaging in a behavior can offer parents/guardians the reasons behind the behavior, allowing for possible change to the antecedent or event that triggered the misbehavior, or it may lead to a change in the consequences given.

Step 4: Create a plan and put it into action.

In this step, the antecedent or consequence can be changed to investigate whether behavior is improved.

Antecedent Change Example: If it was determined that an undesirable behavior is always triggered when the child is asked to clean up toys (antecedent), a change in how to tell the child he/she has to clean up would be appropriate. For example, giving a 5-minute warning, then 2-minute warning before the clean-up will occur may help to prepare the child for the task. This antecedent change may prevent the undesirable behavior from occurring.

Consequence Change Example: Instead of providing a negative consequence for misbehavior, rewarding the desired behavior may help to stop the misbehavior. Beforehand, talk to the child about what behavior is expected. In the case of the misbehaving child when asked to pick up toys, explicitly inform the child that the expectation is that toys should be picked after the warning time has expired. If the task is completed without misbehavior, a reward that is mutually agreed upon will be given. During the time the child is picking up toys, praise for on-task behavior.

Step 5: Evaluate the Effectiveness of the Plan.

After the plan is put into place, the behavior may become worse before it gets better (Neitzel and Bogin, 2008). The child may be testing adults to determine if they will follow through with the new plan. Try the plan at least 3 to 4 weeks. Collecting information in this step follows the same format and procedures as in step 2. If no behavioral improvements are observed, additional changes may need to be made to the antecedent or consequences.

Attached is an example of a completed ABC chart as well as a blank ABC chart for you to access. Parents should use the “My Notes” section to write down what they have learned, consider changes in antecedents or consequences, and record evaluation results.

Developing an ABC chart at home empowers parents to generalize the plan to the school environment. Service providers can advise parents to share their plan and its implementation with their child’s teachers so that similar positive effects may be experienced at school.


  1. Georgia State University Center for Leadership in Disability (n.d.). The ABC Model of Behavior.  Retrieved on April 21, 2018.
  2. Neitzel, J. & Bogin, J. (2008). Steps for implementation: Functional behavior assessment. Chapel Hill, NC: The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, The University of North Carolina. Retrieved on April 22, 2018. 
  3. South Bend Community School Corporation, Special Education Services (2016). Data Recording.  Retrieved on April 25, 2018.
  4. The University of Kansas (n.d.). Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) Chart. Retrieved on April 22, 2018.