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D-A-T-A: Not The Four-Letter Word You Thought It Was!
Which response do you feel would be more meaningful if you were Mary's Mom?
Mary's Mom: How was Mary's day today?
Mary's Teacher: It was so-so. She cried a lot. Her eye contact was pretty good but we can't seem to figure out why it's been up and down so much lately.
Mary's Mom: How was Mary's day today?
Mary's Teacher: I think that we all made some great strides today. During the morning, she cried three times... once at 9:30, right after she was dropped off, once an hour later, and then again at 11 am. She then initiated a bathroom request (which was awesome!) and she had diarrhea. After that, there were no more crying spells so it could very well be that she had a stomachache. By looking back over the past few weeks of data, we have noticed a pattern of Mary crying prior to going to the bathroom, and then being much happier afterwards so you may want to talk with her doctor about this and maybe even look at her diet to see if something may be giving her stomach problems. You can share all of the data with the doctor... it's all online for you to access with your password so you can both see all of the details.
During the morning, Mary's eye contact was quite poor. Standing 2 feet away from her teacher when her name was called, she only looked two times out of ten. However, in the afternoon, when we ran the same conditions for that program, she looked 90 per cent of the time. Looking at the data for this program and her bathroom data at the same time, we suspect that her poor eye contact could be attributed to her not feeling well. We will keep an eye on this.
We were thrilled with Mary's progress in this program this afternoon and since she mastered this step, tomorrow we are going to change the condition so she has to look when we call her name while she is holding a preferred toy to serve as a distraction. We'll keep you posted!
As parents, caregivers and teachers of people with Autism, we work hard. We have significant physical, emotional and intellectual demands placed on us almost constantly. So, when we are asked to do something above and beyond what some would describe as the typical call of duty, it seems only logical that we would think long and hard before taking on even more work and more responsibility. Fair enough. Unfortunately, the importance of good data keeping and analysis is all too often underestimated. Much to the detriment of those we are trying to help, it is therefore sometimes considered unnecessary and left to fall by the wayside.
Why is the recording of data so important to individuals on the Autism Spectrum?
Objectivity & Consistency
What is considered "good" to one person might be only "satisfactory" to another and then "excellent" to yet another person. And if someone tells you that your child "hit himself a lot today", what does a lot mean? Five times? Fifty-two times? What is a "hit"... a mild tap on the thigh or a sharp bruise-causing jab to the forehead? As parents, teachers and caregivers a like, we need to know this information and quantify it as much as possible to ensure that we achieve the highest levels of accuracy possible. How else can we measure progress if we don't establish some baselines and tangible, objective and measurable standards? Speaking the same "behavioral language" makes sure that everyone is on the same page.
Improving Our Teaching
Many a consultant has told us that if my son is not learning, it is not his fault; it is ours. Years of therapy has proven them to be correct. We must examine what teaching procedures are not working and then change them until we find success. Data is what allows us to keep track of what we have tried and what we have not, and what results we have gotten from our attempts.
I recently corresponded with a parent who was very upset and frustrated because she felt that her child's school was not adhering to her wishes of taking her daughter on regular bathroom trips. Teachers said they were but the mom suspected otherwise. It is a bit too easy for a staff member to tell what she may consider a little "fib", by calling one or two trips to the bathroom a day "frequent". It's an outright lie, however, to falsify data. A staff member would most likely think twice before doing this. By having a datasheet in place for toileting, this mom would more likely have a higher degree of success in establishing a postive, collaborative relationship with her child's teachers.
Data sheets can actually be integrated into an IEP to further strengthen parents' directives and goals for their children while in school. By having tangible data-driven goals and records in place, a child is that much more likely to succeed in school.
Furthermore, data can be utlised effectively to help justify the ongoing funding of an individual's therapy program. If a funding source like a school board or government agency questions the benefit of continuing to finance a student's therapy, it can be very beneficial to present objective evidence of the student's progress, as opposed to a parent's anecdotal evidence which could easily be perceived as being biased.
Parents, caregivers and therapists alike often struggle with how to best stop an individual on the Autism Spectrum from engaging in self-injurious behavior, being uncooperative or doing something else that is harmful, disruptive or otherwise problematic. But before one can treat a behavior, one has to determine why this behavior is occurring in the first place. Is it happening only at night? With one particular therapist? After a certain song is played on the radio? How do you answer these questions? How do you even know what questions to ask? The answer is ABC data. ABC stands for "Antecedent", "Behavior" and "Consequence". Rather than delve further into a definition of what ABC data is, and how to take and use it, I will defer you to the experts at Butterfly Affects who have produced this most helpful video entitled "ABC Data Collection" on this very topic.
A handy, inexpensive tool to use in conjunction with an ABC data sheet is an inventory counter or clicker that can be purchased at an office supply store. This way, data doesn't have to be recorded on an instance-by-instance basis at it occurs.
Ensuring Health and Safety
Appropriately timed trips to the bathroom are important not only to a child's behavioral well-being, but to his or her general health as well. It is also important to note when incidents of self-focused or outward aggression take place to help protect the individual with Autism or their caregiver/therapy provider respectively. If I see a bruise on my child, I want to know how it was caused and what we have done and can do in the future to prevent recurrences.
Making Sure Nothing Slips Through The Cracks
My son works on many skills concurrently. He also has a lot of therapists. Part of our program's data-taking process involves keeping track of which therapists are doing what. It's a good way to ensure that nothing is forgotten inadvertently. Sometimes, even subconsciously, therapists will gravitate toward programs that may be easier, or that they like better. Having weekly program completion checklists and data ensures that everything that is supposed to be done gets done and your student consequently benefits from a well-rounded curriculum.
You decided to implement a Gluten-free diet a while back, but now you can't remember exactly when you started and are wondering if the changes you made correlate to the improvement in eye contact you've noticed in your child as of late. Keeping data can solve this problem, helping you determine what is and is not working as you experiment with changes in your child's diet, add vitamin supplements and the like.
D-A-T-A - Don't fear the four-lettered-word!
The word "data" can understandably sound intimidating to the average person. It conjures up notions of scientists in laboratories working on highly sophisticated research projects and using terminology that many of us can't even pronounce, let alone understand. Fear not. Once you get the hang of taking data, it's really not that bad at all. And, there are some highly trained people out there who can help you through the process as well as some wonderful data-taking products and datasheets already in existence, ready for you to use...
Hard-Copy Data Sheets
We ran a home-based therapy program for well over a dozen years using data sheets we either created ourselves, or found online. They worked very nicely and certainly got the job done. All you need to go this route is Microsoft Excel; Apple Numbers or a similar spreadsheet program; a black-and-white printer; paper; some pencils, and you're ready to go.
Pros of Hard-Copy Data
Cons of Hard-Copy Data
- difficult to share with others
- not conducive to backing up
- over time, binders can become very large and cumbersome
- manual graphing can be tedious and takes additional time and effort
FREE Downloadable Data Sheets (Source: Brenda Kosky Deskin)
- Toileting Data Sheet PDF Excel
- ABC Data Sheet for Aggression PDF Excel
- Showering Data Sheet PDF Excel
- Visiting Starbucks Data Sheet PDF Word
Links To More FREE Data Sheets
- Positively Autism: Free Teaching Resources, ABA Materials, Games, Visual Supports, and More!
- ABA Educational Resources Ltd.
- Verbal Behavior Pages & Files
- Different Roads To Learning
- Autism Teaching Tools
- Speaking of Speech
- Montgomery County Intermediate Unit
- Practical Autism Resources
Our team only recently moved over to an electronic data-taking program and so far, we are loving it! Indeed one of its drawbacks is its cost, but I believe that after therapists master its learning curve, it ends up saving money by allows therapists to focus more of their hours on data analysis and teaching and less on manually recording and graphing your data.
Pros of Electronic Data
- easy to share with others
- simple to back up – often offsite using "cloud" technology
- highly portable using iPads, tablets and other small electronic devices
- graphing is done automatically and can take various different forms with the tap of a finger or click of a mouse
Cons of Electronic Data
- can be costly due to price of not only the software itself, but of the devices required to operate it
- learning curve may be significant, especially to those who are not especially computer savvy
Electronic Data Resources
The ABA Planner
ABC Behavior Assessment
ABC Data Pro
Behavior Tracker Pro
FAO Observer Tool
Home ABA Data Manager
RA Behavior Tracking
Skill Tracker Pro
Track & Share