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Mitigate Behaviors Using Antecedent Strategies: Part 1 - Identification

Danielle Kanouff

“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,


Created with Canva

1. Instruction

2. Modeling




While learning new math content, the teacher will:

·      Instruct the concept.

·      Model an example.

·      Practice another example with the student.

·      Provide feedback in the form of positive praise and consideration.

·      Give constructive feedback.

·      Provide time between each step for processing.


Backward Chaining

Essentially, the teacher will complete all steps in a chained task except for the last:

  • Allow the student to complete the previous step independently or with the least restrictive prompt.
  • Continue until the student is independent with the last step.
  • Expand the student’s independence, starting with the previous two steps and so on, until he can complete all steps independently.


Forward Chaining

1. Think of forward chaining as the opposite of backward chaining; the teacher allows the student to complete the first step in a chained task independently or with the least restrictive prompt.

2. The teacher will complete or assist in the completion of the rest of the steps.


Video Modeling

1. Individuals will observe themselves performing a target behavior successfully on video.

2. The aim is to have the behavior imitated.

Example 1: Teacher records the student participating in waiting and ordering food in the lunch line. The targeted behavior is to join with peers in an educational setting.

Example 2: Teacher records the student interacting with a peer in a special education setting. The targeted behavior is to increase interactions with peers to promote social skills.


All of the antecedent interventions listed above are evidence-based practices that are proven to be effective with the prevention of maladaptive behaviors and skill acquisition for functional replacement behaviors.


As clinicians, we need to anticipate maladaptive behaviors in practice. This anticipation allows us to be steps ahead of our patients, focusing on the expected, desired behaviors needed for beneficial treatment and service outcomes. I hope you can use a tip or two from this series and apply them to your practice.


Thanks for reading,



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About the blogger

Danielle Kanouff, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA

Danielle has been working with children since 2009 when she began her career as a teacher. After moving to Nashville, TN, in 2011, she became a special education teacher.

She worked primarily with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and Attention Deficit Disorder with or without Hyperactivity.

Her love for children with disabilities inspired her to earn her master’s degree in special education at Vanderbilt University in 2016. During this time, she also obtained her Behavior Analyst certification and licensure.

While she is no longer in the classroom, she continues to keep a full caseload working with children and young adults who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, their families, and the children's medical, educational, and therapeutic team members.

Her goal at 3C is to share what she’s learned working in the field of education and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

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