Antecedent Manipulations: The Do’s

Vanessa Murphy BCBA, CAS

Therapies 4 Kids

4 Clinics in South Florida


Pembroke Pines

Coral Springs

Boca Raton


Individuals with special needs may exhibit a plethora of behaviors ranging from high-risk behavior (self-injurious behavior, physical aggression, property destruction, elopement, etc) to low-risk behavior (echolalia, vocalizations, stereotypy, etc). How do you tackle these behaviors? Are there strategies that are empirically-based that effectively decrease or eliminate them all together? The answer to these questions is yes! Through applied behavior analysis researchers have found several ways to alter behavior. One of which is known as antecedent manipulations. Think of this as an umbrella with various subcategories that fall underneath it. These interventions are put into place prior to the problem behavior occurring. Hence, the term “antecedent.” Below I have listed a few strategies that could be of use to you.

The first strategy you can implement for low-risk behavior is “enriching the environment.” For instance, if the child exhibits problem behavior to gain access to tangible items, then fill the environment with multiple toys and allow more access to the items. Having more access to the desired items will likely attenuate the problem behavior.  The second strategy applies to both low and high-risk behavior. It is known as non-contingent schedule of reinforcement (NCR). For instance, if a child is escape motivated, reinforcement would entail removal of the aversive task/demand on a fixed interval (rather than contingent upon appropriate behavior). So, for example, a break is given every 5 minutes. The more breaks the escape-motivated child gets, the less likely the child will engage in the problem behavior to remove the aversive stimulus. Lastly, for high-risk behavior, a more restrictive mechanism can be used such as a helmet to prevent injury. It is important to note, the literature shows that in order to maximize effectiveness, it is best to use antecedent manipulations in conjunction with consequential strategies.

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