Three-Term Contingency in ABA
Your work as an RBT should be guided by just two words: if and then. If and then are used to set up contingencies that lead to opportunities for reinforcement, and, at times, punishment. An if-then statement is called a contingency. You might hear some people refer to it as “first-then.” Whatever way you say it, the goal is the same. If you do X, then Y will happen. But, “if-then” only begins to explain the role of contingencies in applied behavior analysis. You must know the the three-term contingency, or A-B-C, or SD-Response-Consequence.
SD-Response-Consequence, the ABCs of ABA
ABC in applied behavior analysis stands for antecedent-behavior-consequence, or the three-term contingency. The antecedent is what happens right before the behavior, the behavior is what happens, and the consequence is what happens immediately following a behavior. Whenever we are working with behaviors we always want to know what happens right before and right after a behavior. These two things will guide our treatment from inception to conclusion. The technical way to describe ABC is SD (discriminative stimuli)-Response (behavior)-Consequence. It means the exact same thing, but uses the technical terms. Let’s look at some examples.
Examples of the Three-Term Contingency in ABA
Remember, A-B-C, SD-R-C.
Child cries-mom hugs child-child stops crying
Teachers asks a question-I raise my hand-teacher calls on me
Light turns red-I hit the brakes-car stops
The oven timer goes off-I take the food out-I turn the timer off
Understanding contingencies is the first step to becoming a great behavior technician or analyst. Contingencies are powerful. If you set up good contingencies you create opportunities to reinforce desired behaviors. Additionally, understanding antecedents and consequences will give you insight into why a behavior happens, and how it’s being reinforced or punished. Before you learn anything else, master contingencies.
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