Antecedent -- A Specific Meaning for Analyzing Difficult Behaviors

The Antecedent precedes the behavior. Getty Images - Pedro Blanco


In preparing a functional behavior analysis, special educators, behavior specialists and psychologists use an acronym, ABC, to understand a target behavior. The A stands for antecedent, the B for behavior and the C for consequence.

Antecedent in this specific context, means the setting events and environment.

  • Where does the target behavior occur?  This address the impact of environment on the antecedent or setting event.  Does it only happen at home?  Does it happen in public?  Does it only happen in a specific place and not in the other?  If the antecedent is school and not home, it probably reflects that little or no demand is put on the child in the other environment. Sometimes, if a student has been abused in a school or residential facility, and the environment looks very much like that setting, the student's behavior might actually be reactive:  a means of protecting him or herself. 
  • When does the target behavior occur?  Does it happen mostly at a certain time of days?  Is it perhaps related to the child being tired after working hard to meet demands (near the end of the day?)  Could it be related to hunger (at 11:00 a.m. before lunch?)  Could it be related to anxiety about bedtime (if it happens in the evening?)
  • Who is present when the target behavior occurs?  It is possible for certain people or people dressed in a certain way may trigger a behavior.   Perhaps it's people in white coats, if the child has be frightened or undergone a painful procedure at a doctor's office, the child may be anticipating a repeat of the experience.  Often students, especially students with developmental disabilities are frightened by people in uniforms, if their parents have had to call the police to get assistance with a particularly violent melt down.  Or, the parents have foolishly assumed that threatening the child with calling the police is an appropriate way to stop an unwanted 
  • Does something happen just before the target behavior?  Is there an event that triggers the behavior?  I had a student who would elope when it snowed.  Barefoot.  He seemed to like running in the cold.  Other students may respond in fear to something that happens, or even if a peer moves into his or her space.  I also had a student who was very reactive because he was placed in a behavior facility that wasn't designed for a student with autism, and the other students basically tortured him.  

All of these things may contribute to the "setting event" or antecedent to the event.

Also Known As: Setting Event


Antecedent:   In the morning upon arrival, when presented with her work folder, (antecedent) Sonia throws herself out of her wheelchair. (behavior.)  Clearly the antecedent is being presented with the work folder, and it happens at the beginning of the day.