About four weeks ago I was working in my classroom with a student on giving up his preferred reinforcer. We were doing a work/break/work/break routine with lots of positive praise being given when the student handed over the IPad at the end of break (signaled by a timer). The student was doing amazing when the timer went off and his bus was called. This resulted in a meltdown and the student biting me.
After safely de-escalating the situation and getting the student home, I sat down to ponder what antecedent intervention I was going to use to ensure that he did not meltdown the next time the timer went off and the bus was called. An antecedent intervention is an intervention that alters the environment to prevent the behavior. Contrary to what pops up when you first search it on Google, antecedent interventions have applications outside working with students with autism (but that is where a lot of the research can be found).
For this particular kiddo, I decided on a work/break/work/break/puzzle/bus schedule. What antecedent did I change? What was happening right before he was transitioning to the bus. I made sure that the thing he was being prompted to give up before entering the bus was a secondary reinforcer (puzzle) instead of his favorite (the IPad) and I haven’t had an issue since.
You’re probably thinking, great, but how does this apply to the ‘real world’? Since an antecedent intervention is basically anything that you do before to change or prevent a behavior, you could apply an antecedent intervention to almost anything.
Think about your local grocery store. You have a basket full of items and are waiting in the checkout line. You look over and see the magazine rack, candy, gift cards, and various chapsticks. Why does that odd mishmash exist? To change your behavior. To get you to buy MORE.
Think of your child’s bedtime routine. Go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, read a story. Why that particular sequence? Because you are anticipating all needs your child will use to get out of bed. You have applied antecedent interventions with the end goal of keeping your child in bed.
Think of a teacher in a classroom creating groups. Why is the teacher creating the groups? Why doesn’t she just let the kids pick the groups? She’s applying an antecedent intervention. Using student strengths to put groups together that will produce the project with the least amount of friction and/or sabotage.
Almost all students with an IEP have some form of antecedent intervention written into their plan. These can usually be found in the accommodations section (or the FBA/BIP if your student has one) and include (but are not limited to): preferred seating, interspersing preferred tasks with non-preferred, making sure the work is modified/chunked before giving it to student, limiting free/downtime, notifying student of change in schedule, etc.
Antecedent interventions exist to PREVENT behavior BEFORE it happens. I think most of us would agree it’s best to be proactive rather than reactive.
Kern, L., & Chen, R. (2019). Antecedent Interventions. Handbook of Behavioral Interventions in Schools, 250-267. doi:10.1093/med-psych/9780190843229.003.0013
Luiselli, J. K. (2006). Antecedent assessment & intervention: Supporting children & adults with developmental disabilities in community settings. Baltimore, Md: Paul H. Brookes Pub.
Mathur, S.; Rutherford, R. (1991) Peer-Mediated Interventions Promoting Social Skills of Children and Youth with Behavioral Disorders. Education and Treatment of Children 14(3).