Autism Behavior Data Collection with Clickers

Are you using clickers in an autism classroom or a home program for behavior data collection? Well, you may be using them incorrectly. Find out how I recommend using these clickers and what you can start doing today.

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Today I want to talk about clickers and behavior data collection. I’ve used these counter clickers that you can just Google on Amazon. I got my first clicker actually, before Amazon was even a thing, at Staples. I just went in and asked how they would count people coming in. So these clickers are great in terms of counting things. The way I used to use clickers is different than the way I use them now.

So I see a lot of mistakes when using clickers. I do like the ability to have colored clickers for different behaviors or different things. The way I used to use clickers is I had this client, I’ll call him Adam, and he used to have a lot of what I would call defective mands for attention, a lot of nonsense language. He would say things like, “Ms. Mary has a striped shirt on” or “Can I hop like a kangaroo?” and he was in sixth or seventh grade, so it was constant. He would throw up a ball and say, “Adam, stop throwing the ball” and you know, wait for somebody to go, “stop it, get back on task.” So a lot of what I would call nonsense language. So I gave them a clicker and I said, every time he says something weird like that, I want you to click and don’t just click for the whole day and give me a big number.

I want you to click and every 15 minutes I want you to write down on a sheet piece of paper, what he was doing. Like if it was math class, if he was typing, or he was at the cafeteria for lunch, what activity it was in those 15 minutes, and then how many clicks he got. This way I would know how much defective language he had and what actually occurred. From the behavior data collection I found after a 3 day assessment using a clicker, Adam had 500 nonsense language episodes per school day and that there were high times when he wasn’t engaged with an adult and doing a task that kept his mind busy, the rate of his defective language would go way up and when he was engaged, like for instance, typing class, these clicks would be almost at 0. From this behavior data collection through the clicker, we made the decision that we would double his typing time.

We looked at when he was having the most effective language. He was in language for learning, I think around episode 50 or 80. I stopped that and we went back to more mixed verbal behavior to just try to get some instructional control over his language. Eventually, he did restart language for learning and even finished language for thinking. I worked with him from sixth grade up until he was 21. Even when he was in his adult transitioning year where he was working and he was at a Vo tech program, we would actually still use the clicker for behavior data collection to put Adam at jobs that had low clicks because if he were working on an assembly line where he was really busy and constant, his defective language would be almost 0. But if he was more in an adult day program where there was a lot of downtimes, his defective language would go through the roof. So we actually chose his adult placement based on this clicker and behavior data collection we gathered.

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So in that way, it was good but now I don’t recommend using clickers to keep track of problem behavior. I can tell you a couple of examples where clickers had been used this way. I’ve used them this way and made the mistake of “oh there are 3 more kicks. Oh, Johnny, just aggressed again, 2 more clicks” and all this clicking of problem behavior, leaving little time to actually prevent the problem behavior and put the procedures in place to get positive responding going. The other big reason I changed to using it the way I use it now, which I’m going to tell you about in a second, is because I got trained in TAGTeach, which I did a video blog and a podcast about TAGTeach if you’re unsure what I mean by that.

I also have been in schools and residential placements over the years where they have a number of these clickers all balled together and they’re keeping track of all of the problem behavior data. This leaves little to no time for a really proactive, positive system of data collection and of intervention. So now what I recommend is we don’t click problem behavior. Instead, we use the partial interval, like I was showing with Adam where we would write down every 15 minutes what the activity was, but then instead of the number of kicks or the number of verbal stims, we would do major, minor problem behavior and we would have that keyed per student. Then if it was a major problem behavior like aggression, which involved multiple kicks and dropping to the ground, whatever the behavior looked like, we would have that major problem behavior, it would be circled, then we would do ABC data in addition.

I think this is a much better way for behavior analysts to look at the whole picture and to begin to program more efficiently. For Adam, it worked to click the data and we got it down to very, very low rates. But now that I’m TAGTeach trained, I believe in a very positive approach. I believe in partial interval data collection with ABC data for those major problem behaviors. I use the clickers now for pairing up good responses. So if I say, touch your head, where’s your nose, I would click after each one. I might use this as more of a token system. I will use this to count words or word approximations.

I have a shoebox program to increase language that I think I did a video on that a while back, so if they said the word banana as they put it in, I would click. So I’m going to be counting words and counting positive behaviors. I might be counting smiles, I might be counting good things with my clicker and I leave the problem behaviors for that partial interval form and the ABC data. So I hope you liked these tips on behavior data collection, and when and how to use a clicker, at least what I have found to be effective over the years. And if you’d like to learn more about my approach for toddlers through teens, you can check out a free online workshop at and I will see you right here next week.

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