Andrew Prine, EdS, BCBA, NCSP

What are ABA progress graphs?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) clinicians collect data on your child’s programs and performance during therapy sessions to help make the best decisions regarding their progress and to determine the next steps in their care journey. Data is structured to show an increase (or decrease) in behaviors and skills depending on what is being targeted and formatted in an easy-to-understand line chart. Charts and graphs will often be shared with you during regular progress updates with your Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). You should always, and are encouraged to, request a review of your child’s progress whenever you’d like!

The benefits of ABA progress graphs

Behavioral data allows your child’s ABA Therapist to monitor and update their care plan to reflect their progress in therapy. While progress is rarely straightforward, data can help you see your child’s improvement over time, especially when what your ABA therapist is teaching takes a long time to learn. These graphs are crucial in helping your child’s BCBA supervisor look for patterns and trends in their behavior and learning. This information can help you and the BCBA identify changes or challenges that may occur outside of a therapy setting, allowing you to better understand your child’s progress.  

Let’s walk through the contents of the graph, where the data comes from, and how to interpret it so that when you review your child’s progress in ABA therapy, you feel confident that you are interpreting the data correctly.  If you have any questions while looking at your child’s progress data, please ask your BCBA!

How to read an ABA graph (with examples)

ABA Graphs may be presented in several different ways, depending on the original behavior that your child’s therapist is attempting to teach. Below is an example of the three most common types of data and a visual representation of what a Frequency graph could look like.

  1. Percent Correct

This data type appears as a percentage calculated from how often a correct response happens divided by the number of opportunities. In practice, this example could look like selecting the correct picture when asked, “Where’s the tiger?” If a child responded correctly 5 times (Correct Response) when presented with the image 10 times (Response Opportunities), they’d have a 50% correct response rate.

  1. Frequency

Frequency data is simply a count or number based on the amount of times behavior happens during a therapy session. We often see this type of data collected for challenging behaviors like hitting or yelling. For example, if a child threw a crayon, a book, and a game controller during a therapy session, the throwing behavior occurred for a frequency of three times. In this instance, context might be important; for example, if the child throws a ball back and forth with the therapist, this would likely not be counted because this is an appropriate and functional way to use a ball.  Frequency can also be used for other behaviors as well, such as how many times a child uses a 3+ word sentence, how many times they ask for something appropriately, or how many times they ask a follow-up question or make a comment during a conversation exchange.

  1. Duration

Duration data can show how long a specific behavior occurs during a therapy session. This information can help your child’s ABA therapist target a tantrum episode.

For the example we’ll review below, we will use a frequency count, but the concepts apply to nearly all behavioral graphs.

First, let’s look at a standard ABA graph with some pretend data. The graph will always have two axes – the X axis goes across the bottom, while the Y axis goes up and down, similar to a graph you’d see in an algebra class. The x-axis usually indicates the date that the data were collected.  The y-axis in the below chart showcases the frequency of Johnny’s hitting behavior. Each axis is always clearly labeled and typically includes a title.

Using the graph to optimize therapy plans

There are several other components worth mentioning; using the graph, we’ll explore these together. The left-hand part of the chart is known as a baseline. This information tells the ABA Therapist where your child’s behavior trend is starting out and is used as a reference point. 

The dashed line separating the two graphs is known as a phase line. This information indicates a change or event worth considering when an ABA therapist analyzes the graph of your child’s behavior. In this example, the phase line indicates the end of the baseline and the start of the intervention to correct the child’s behavior. On the right-hand side of the graph, you’ll see the label “DRA & FCT,” which describes the approach of therapy utilized. DRA & FCT stands for Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior and Functional Communication Training.  

Differential reinforcement of alternative behavior (DRA) is when one form of behavior (usually some appropriate alternative, such as “asking politely”) is reinforced and rewarded. In contrast, another form of behavior (usually problem behavior) is not rewarded.  

Functional Communication Training (FCT) aims to replace challenging behavior with new ways of communicating that achieve the same thing. 

For example, if the BCBA has determined that Johnny hits others because he wants to play with a certain toy that someone else has, we might start by implementing:

FCT - Teaching Johnny to ask for the toy politely

DRA - Giving Johnny the toy when he asks politely AND ensuring that he does not get the toy when he hits

Here's that same graph with all of the labels highlighted:

In summary, these graphs show the exciting things your child is learning during their therapy! Using and understanding them is an important part of their ABA plan and will help determine what works and what doesn’t for your child. In helping them reach their fullest potential, you are encouraged to review and ask questions about the data collected during your child’s treatment and talk with your BCBA about their progress.  

Here at Powerback Pediatrics, we are committed to helping you understand your child’s ABA treatment journey every step of the way. Learn more about our approach to creating customized ABA therapy plans here. We can help your child get covered for ABA therapy– click here to contact us today!

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