ABA Data Collection: Step Four of the Turn Autism Around Approach

Collecting data for the sake of collecting data is a waste of your time. That’s why in the fourth step of the Turn Autism Around approach, I share a variety of ways to collect data, and then I show you how to use that data to analyze and understand how to help a child. In my newest book Turn Autism Around: An Action Guide for Parents of Young Children with Early Signs of Autism, I give you many examples of how to use ABA data collection so that you can see what’s most effective for your child.

Michelle C. knew that she needed to take a language sample before she took my course and after my course so that she had baseline data to work with to measure her daughter’s success. I recommend three simple ways to collect language data:

  1. Set a timer and count every single word or sound in that time interval.
  2. Collect a language sample with a video.
  3. Take a video of you engaging with your child at a table or on the floor.

If you’re a busy parent and don’t want to get into a ton of data, I suggest that you try the calendar system. We use a calendar to keep track of Lucas’s self-injurious behavior, the correlation between his headaches and allergy shots, and to track medication changes. You can also track ABC data (antecedent, behavior & consequence) either on a calendar or on paper so that you can begin to put together a picture of why certain behaviors are triggered.

Don’t be overwhelmed. In my book, I’ll teach you the steps you need to take to collect easy data and get a good summary of the child’s behavior and progress. I provide examples and forms so that you can see how other parents and professionals use this data to analyze whether a child’s therapy, medication, or circumstances need to be adjusted. And you’ll be able to assess more clearly when a child is succeeding and thriving.


  • How to collect data so that it can be graphed and presented to insurance companies or providers.
  • The three ways to collect a language sample so that you have a baseline to compare the child’s progress against.
  • Why you need to be more specific in your data collection than simply writing “had a tantrum”.
  • I use a clicker counter only to count words, smiles, and pro-social behavior because it reinforces positive actions.

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#078: Autism Success Story with Michelle C.
#028: Autism & Medication with Dr. Michael Murray, Psychiatrist
Autism Data Collection Method: Calendars[/vc_column_text]

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Transcript for Podcast Episode: 120
ABA Data Collection: Step Four of the Turn Autism Around Approach
Hosted by: Dr. Mary Barbera:

Welcome back to another episode of The Turn Autism Around podcast, I'm your host, Dr. Mary Barbera. And tonight we are talking all about step four of the Turn Autism Around approach, which is taking easy data to turn things around. Step one, if you remember, I have done a previous podcast, is all about assessment. Step two is all about planning and goal selection. Step three is teaching or intervention. So step four is our data collection. So let's get into that now.

So today we are talking all about easy data collection. And I know there are both parents and professionals out there listening and watching. And you might think that data is confusing or better left to the professionals or complicated and scary. But I think after you listen to this, you're going to have four or five really good takeaways that you can begin to start counting behaviors and counting the behaviors that matter to help you turn things around. So if you are struggling with talking or tantrums or sleep or eating, there is the four step approach of the autism around approach that can help you. And we are going to dove a little bit more into this data collection.

Even some professionals and even some novice behavioral analysts might feel like data collection is a little too overwhelming. And I remember when I started Lucas's ABA Applied Behavior Analysis program, well we started it years ago, over two decades ago, I didn't really know anything about what kind of data we would need, but we had a consultant there telling us what kind of data we needed. then when I became a behavioral analyst, it was all about graphing data, but I still was questioning.

You know, we don't just want to keep data for the sake of keeping data or graph data. That's really not the right data. So today I'm talking all about getting the right data, the easiest data that can really make a difference in our lives. So for those of you that haven't gotten your hands on my book yet, it is out as of March 30th. Turn Autism Around and action guide for parents of young children with early signs of autism. There is a lot of data collection in the book and a lot of stories that really give you examples of why data is just so important.

One of the stories is Michelle see who's on podcast number seventy-eight. And her daughter Elena was diagnosed with autism just before she turned two. And she got caught up because her first day at her diagnosis was February of 2020when the world shut down shortly after the diagnosis. So Michelle, with her daughter Elena, is feature. They're featured in Chapter eight, nine and 13. And one of the reasons I really wanted to feature Michelle and her daughter story is because it was so remarkable. Like I didn't she joined my online toddler and preschooler course and she all of a sudden poster one day. I didn't recognize her name from posting a lot or anything.

She posted one day and she said, I started this course like four or five weeks ago, and my daughter went from two words to five hundred words. And I'm just ecstatic. And I was like, Whoa, I want to talk to you, because that's really pretty remarkable. So we got on the call and I didn't even know if it would make a good podcast interview, but I asked her permission to kind of pretend it was a podcast and it's really one of my favorite top ten podcasts. It's number seventy-eight. But she knew because of my online courses and now the same procedures are in my new book. She knew to take a language sample before she started all the interventions and after the course was completed. And so I really recommend that we're going to talk about the data collection she did. But that was one big important point for Michelle's success, was she had baseline data, and she had data afterwards.

And she didn't have any other services because of the covid shut down the world, so she didn't even have any early intervention professionals on Zoom or anybody coming to the house. She didn't take Elaine anywhere. She didn't take her to play dates. She didn't take her to preschool. She didn't take her to daycare. She didn't take her to the grocery store. And so all of the interventions she was learning online was what was working. There's also, especially if you have older kids like my son Lucas is twenty-four years of age. And we have used a system that I'm going to talk to you about in a moment. Using a calendar and using a physical calendar to collect data on Lucas's problem behaviors, changes and medication allergies and allergy shots was really key to us figuring out how to get him really stable and how to get his aggression gone and the self-injurious behavior near zero levels.

And the third little story I'll tell you to illustrate the importance of taking the right data and how data and behavior change can be overwhelming. When I was working with the Pennsylvania Verbal Behavior Project for seven years, early in my career, from 2003 to 2010, I would go into classrooms working with teachers and paraprofessionals and speech pathologist. I remember this one classroom I went to. There were older aides, teacher aides there, and they would be like, every time Mary comes, you know, we have to make changes like, can't you just let us be? And they were 60 years old or older and they just didn't like a lot of changes. They just kind of wanted to do the same old thing.

But what I explained to them was, yes, we were going to make changes because for every child in the classroom, they had, you know, things that they were working on and they were either not making progress. So we would need to make a change. They were kind of making progress. So we would need new targets, new programs, or they were actually regressing or declining in their skills. And of course, we would want to make a change. So whether the graph is flat line going up or going down in order to make progress, we would have to make systematic changes. Not every day changes, but once a week, once a month. We need to make systematic changes based on the data.

So every time you think of data, don't be stressed. Just think about really easy things that you can count. One of the easiest things that I find parents really like to count and it's motivating to count, especially when things are going up is counting first words. So in Michelle's situation, she one of the first things I ask members of my online course to do and now I'm asking people to do as they read the book in the assessment chapter, is to set a timer for whether you want to set a timer for 15 minutes or a whole hour, it's up to you. But for that time interval, whatever it is, we have to be rate paying attention, not multitasking. Pay attention to count and write down every single word or sound or word approximation. The child is saying. So in Michelle's case, when she did that prior to starting the term autism around approach, she wrote down Mommy and dog, I think, or dog and mom. Those were the only two words she heard in a one-hour time frame.

The other thing that we recommend in conjunction with that language sample is we always recommend two videos, one video of a one minute one, two-minute video of your child alone doing something that they like to do alone without them knowing you're taking a video. And the other video is you trying to engage your child either at a table or on the floor with some kind of tasks.

And these three little assessments, baseline assessments, help you really keep track of where you're at. It's a snapshot, just like if you were losing weight, you don't want to take a before picture and you'd want to get on the scale, maybe do your measurements that way. You have a before. So that's one of the data collections I recommend is a language sample and these little short videos to get a handle on your child or if you are a professional, to encourage the parent to help the parent with those little tasks.

So let's talk about another data collection system that is really helpful for parents who don't want to get into a ton of data is a calendar system. Now, I really prefer and I talk a little bit about this in my book, but I also have a video blog on using the calendar system that I basically created out of necessity, because I have a background as a registered nurse as well as a behavior analyst.

I'm a mom, I'm an advocate. And so here is Lucas's calendar system. And I like the physical calendar because if you try to use your phone and then the child wants the phone or I just don't find that we have like enough space to type, it's just consuming. So you're not going to be able to write down every single thing about the child's day in that calendar anyway. We only really want to write down for Lucas. We wanted to write down any self-injurious behavior which he used to have like maybe once a week. Now he has it much less frequently. And the other thing that this calendar really has enabled us to see is when we've tried to switch his medication from regular medication to long-acting medication, it didn't work. We also can correlate his problem behaviors with headaches. And allergy shots, the need for allergy shots, so I would get a calendar for some families with children that don't sleep well, who may take melatonin or another medication, you can have the calendar, you can use the calendar to work on sleep. And that would really help you.

It's much better than just jotting things down like I have here that Lukas saw Dr. Murray on June 9th. And Dr. Murray actually is one of my favorite podcast episodes. It's number twenty-eight, Mary Barbarities emphasized twenty-eight. And Dr. Murray is a psychiatrist, but he's also a dad of a son with autism. And here I have that we visited Dr. Murray over video conferencing, but that Lucas's weight was down 18 pounds from prior to covid and now he's gone on to lose over 40 pounds. But I also see here that he had self-injurious behavior. He had allergy shots. If he's on antibiotics for something, whatever the situation is, I can write it here. If we are increasing and decreasing medication, it's all on here. The other nice thing about this kind of data and really any kind of data, whether you're taking two words to five hundred words or whether you're looking at three self-injurious behaviors in June and zero in July and five in August or zero in August, all of the data you take, even if you're not a behavior analyst, think about could I graph this?

Could I make a visual reference representation of this? Because if you can't graph it, it's going to be hard for the behavior analyst to put that in your plan because insurance companies and want to make a plan. Now, Lukas's SB is so low now that we don't really have the graph. And I can just tell the doctor that it range from this to this per month and it's not a big deal. We also write down like what time it occurred if he complained of a headache, if he was given Motrin. We can add all of that into the box and we use we use red pen for any medical issues or problem behaviors in here. And then we literally take the calendar to the doctor's appointments and that really helps us. So I think the calendar system has just been a great a great thing for Lucas and for many, many of my clients as well.

OK, so we talked about a language sample and getting baseline data and as well as videos, we talked about the calendar system and if graphing sounds like, oh, God, I wouldn't know how to start with a graph, it doesn't have to be that hard like you could. And I know that some of you are just listening and not watching, but you can just take a piece of paper and you can put one line down, one line across like a graph, and then time goes on the bottom and then you're your rate data or the number of words or the number of sibs, whatever your graphing goes on the side against the vertical line. And this could be three, one, three, two goes across the bottom and you just start looking at things in terms of a graph.

So you could see, oh, wow, you know, that's on his way up, you know, or that's on its way down. So think about the ability to graph, which is really important when you are thinking about what kind of data. Because I see so often or I used to see so often when I was really working with kids is in classrooms especially is a whole lot of data being collected and some graphing and very little analysis. And so I only want to talk about behaviors that we can collect. We can graph if needed. But although I don't recommend or really worry about parents graphing, but I want whatever data I'm giving them, I want to have the ability to graph it in some way.

All right. Let's talk about another data collection system that is common in schools and homes. And it's really important, and that is ABC data. So I do talk about this quite a bit in chapter six of my new book, Turn Autism Around. And I also talk about it in my online courses. And again, you don't need to be a behavior analyst to to start thinking about ABC data. So ABC. A stands for antecedent, and that is what happens before a behavior occurs, the B stands for behavior and that is what the behavior actually is. What does it look like? And C stands for the consequence or what happened right after the behavior. So I don't think I want to necessarily show you. But let's talk about what you would write down. And this can be done on a piece of loose-leaf. This does not have to get crazy. And you don't you don't need necessarily an ABC form, although with my book, I am going to include a blank form as well as a sample ABC form for free as as a book resource.

So all the book resources, everything as you're listening, preorder information, the order information, all the forms in the book are going to be at TurnAutismAround.com. So if we think about the antecedent behavior and the consequence, we also have to make another column before all that with the date, the time and the setting. Because if Johnny's told no in math class versus told no at the grocery store at because he wants candy, those are two different things. So I always like that the date, the time, even day of the week, like whether it's a weekend or weekday. But if he's in school, if he's at circle time, those are all really important when we start to analyze these problems.

So the antecedent is what happens right before a behavior. So when a lot of cases, in some cases, nobody calls it. Like it could be a fire alarm going off that was unplanned. So the antecedent is loud noise, fire alarm and the behavior could be biting his knuckle, yelling, aggression, swiping the desk, whatever, covering his ears, screaming. And then the consequence is, I mean, it's a fire alarm. You have to exit the building. So then we've got like another whole situation.

But a lot of times when we're talking about antecedent behavior, consequence, it's not just some loud noise from thin air. It's somebody is placing a demand or telling the child, no, those are the two biggies and the behavior that it elicits. The important thing about the behavior column is that we're very specific about what the behavior looks like. A lot of people, when they've studied ABC data, a lot of parents and paraprofessionals and even professionals. Right. Had a meltdown. He had a tantrum. That's really not good enough to really analyze.

We need to know that he bites his knuckle. Did he hit his head with an open hand or closed fist? Did he hit his head against the wall? And those kinds of things will really help. We can also graph whole episodes like ABC, a whole major episode. We can graph that as one whole episode. We also want to note how long this episode lasted and we might want to be working on reducing that.

So one more. I think I have one or two more data collection systems that might be helpful. And you don't have to start all of this at the same time. You might want to. We definitely want to get the book and you definitely want to start with language samples and videos and the assessment forms I have in there. You might encourage the family or if you're the family member to start a calendar. I think this is great for any child or even yourself if you're having a rash or cough or something that you just kind of feel like you're chasing your tail, you can really keep track of what you're trying and try. And then you can take the calendar to the dermatologist or to the pulmonologist to say, here's what I tried. Here's when it started. It got worse on this day. Over the weekends, it seems to be better. You almost have to be a little detective.

OK, let's talk about two more areas of data collection that you may or may not be able to use in the near future. One is a clicker counter. And when you're trying to look for a clicker count, I would just search on Amazon for a click or counter. This is, you know, counting people coming into a building kind of thing. And years ago, I'm talking more than a decade. Fifteen years ago when I was with the verbal behavior project, we use these clickers a lot to count problem behaviors like, oh, he tried to kick me twice. There's a pinch, there's a yell. There's just a bunch of clicks. But now that I'm aware of how the power of an auditory click to positively reinforce, now I am very strict on I only use clicker counters to count words, to count smiles, to count good prosocial behaviors.

And I tend to count whole episodes of problem behaviors, not with a clicker. So a clicker is good for keeping track of words, words you hear and good behaviors. And then I've been into classrooms where they have ten little clickers all bunched together, rubber banded together, and the green one is for kicks and the blue one is for yelling. And I don't see any point to that because really we want to get all problem behaviors down, major ones down to near zero levels and go from there.

And then the final point I'll make is that we have a lot of assessments and forms in my new book, Turn Autism Around: Assessments and Forms to help you improve feeding, sleep, potty training. And it may seem really like, oh my gosh, this sounds like so overwhelming. I don't even know where to start. But trust me, I teach you how to start, what to do step by step. And whatever problem you're having, whether it's a talking problem, a sleep problem or potty-training problem, whether it's child won't tolerate wearing a mask or whatever, won't take a medicine that he needs to take, we tackle it the same way we assess.

We make a plan. We make sure the goals are appropriate. We intervene and we take easy data and we can turn really any behavior around. So in summary, it's just so important to use the four step turn autism around approach. I hope that you will by the book turn autism around dotcom. I hope you will download all the free resources and bonuses that come with it. And I hope that you will continue to follow me, because I do believe that this is a new approach is based on all the science that I know, but it's also based on my background as a medical professional or behavioral analyst and a mom who really wants each and every child to reach his or her full potential to be as safe, as independent and as happy as possible. So hope you enjoyed that short presentation on taking easy data.