Antecedent Information

Big Picture

So now that you have an identified operationally defined target behavior(s), the next step of a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) is to identify the events, activities, and situations that immediately come before, precede, or "trigger" challenging behavior. In behavioral terms we refer to these as "Antecedents" or "Antecedent Events". Antecedent information is an essential component to behavioral intervention assessment and planning because it can assist with the preventative aspect of a BIP. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) literature states, "If variables that cause and maintain challenging behaviors can be identified and modified, then subsequent occurrences of the behavior can be diminished" (Cooper et al., 2007).


BIPs must document situations in which the challenging behavior is likely to occur, for example: difficult task, transition time, when not working in group, with specific people, when alone, after a request, etc. By identifying antecedents in the student's day that may occasion or trigger challenging behavior, an effective BIP will fulfil two purposes:

  1. Inform school personnel and those implementing BIPs of situations that are likely to occasion challenging behavior.
  2. Provide useful information to make proactive changes to the student's immediate environment that will be preventative in nature. By modifying antecedents, the BIP may reduce, remove, or eliminate the students need to exhibit the challenging behavior.

Key Concepts

  • Antecedents have a logical relationship to challenging behavior and are connected to environmental factors resulting in the continuation of challenging behavior.
  • Antecedents play a role in understanding/identifying the function of the students challenging behavior.
  • It is best practice to document one or more antecedent events in which the behavior is likely to occur and to describe the antecedent(s) in detailed-enough observable terms so that it can be identified by others.


During the Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) process information about antecedents to challenging behavior should be gained through multiple forms, including:

  1. Direct observation/Data Collection
  2. Interview
  3. ABC Analysis

Sometimes the antecedents to the target challenging behavior will be obvious to casual observations and interviews; other times formal ongoing observational data collection via an ABC analysis will be necessary.

Examples/Non Examples

All examples below relate to the same student (Kai) and same challenging behavior (Crying)


Non Examples

Kai cries when he is requested to do work without peer or adult support.

Note: Antecedent identifies activity, and social setting of peers and adult support absent.

  • Kai cries on an off throughout the day.

  • Kai cries when he has issues of low self-esteem.

Note: These Antecedent events listed would not be considered antecedents or are written in a way that is non-observable.

"Happens throughout the day" is not specific and when "when self-conscious" refers to an internal state and is therefore not observable.

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