What Is Trigger Analysis in ABA Therapy?

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Trigger analysis is a type of ABA therapy in which children are taught to identify the emotions and behaviors that occur before, during, and after an event. It helps them understand how their actions may be impacting others around them.,

Trigger analysis is a technique that helps to identify the triggers of behavior in children with autism. This can be done by identifying which behaviors are linked to each other, and then creating an intervention plan around these triggers. Read more in detail here: trigger analysis example.


Trigger analysis is a method of studying every element that leads up to a client’s unfavorable reaction in order to pinpoint what triggered it.

Trigger analysis is based on the concept that undesirable behavior does not appear out of nowhere. Instead, each issue behavior has its own set of triggers that may be identified and regulated via monitoring.

The system is used in applied behavior analysis treatment to monitor and measure behaviors in order to record ways that are linked to certain degrees of behavior. This is to assist an ABA therapist in identifying the triggers (catalysts) that induce the assessed behaviors. This provides the therapist with a wealth of information about the trigger and the behavior that follows it.

The circumstance, or stimulus, that initiates a negative behavior reaction is referred to as a “trigger” in ABA treatment. Teachers, caregivers, parents, and therapists may employ trigger analysis and all that comes with it to pinpoint the specific reasons of a target behavior, allowing them to reinforce better, more desired behavior. This may be accomplished via the use of incentives, rewards, or penalties.

Problematic Habits

For example, if a youngster feels they are not being given enough attention, he or she may display physical aggressiveness by throwing objects. A therapist may do a trigger analysis to determine when the behavior occurs and to identify the sequence of events that lead the kid to believe they were not receiving direct attention.

Problematic Habits don’t come from nowhere, and it is easy to say that every problem behavior has a trigger. However, finding that trigger can be easier said than done, and that is where the work of an applied behavior analyst comes in.

The ABCs

The therapist examines the antecedent, conduct, and consequences, sometimes known as the ABCs, to find the cause of the trigger.

What came first is the antecedent. An ABA therapist will record every detail that occurred in the minutes and seconds leading up to the onset of the problem behavior in trigger analysis.

This will imply that:

  • Make a list of everyone who was there and what they were doing when the conduct occurred.

  • Taking note of the activities or events that occurred just before the action.

  • The setting is being described. Were there any odors that stood out? What kind of lighting did you have? What were the levels of noise like?

  • Identifying the chronology is the first step. When did the bad conduct start and where did it happen?

The therapist’s notes must have enough specifics to find clues that pinpoint the root of the issue behavior, which is an essential aspect of trigger analysis.

For instance, merely writing about a two-person encounter will not enough for trigger analysis. The therapist will need to take note of the following:

  • This is where the folks were seated.

  • What they had been up to.

  • A complete account of who did what, when, and how they interacted with each other.

Providing Specifics

The therapist cannot simply state that the kid was furious when discussing the harmful conduct. For a thorough trigger analysis, every last detail must be captured. Rather of writing that the kid is furious, the therapist should write down what precise sounds the child made, their facial expressions, the things they tossed, and where they hurled them. It’s also important to record whether the youngster kicked or hit someone or anything.

Every detail is crucial. One of the most challenging aspects of being an ABA therapist is being able to react to stressful circumstances while maintaining a watchful eye on everything that is going on.

Consequences Analysis

The following step in a trigger analysis is to describe the outcome, or what happened as a result of the issue behavior. This implies the therapist must write what occurred just after the conduct was shown. Consequences may increase or lessen the likelihood that the kid will repeat the conduct, therefore the therapist must pay great attention to how everyone responds to the behavior, as well as how the parents or caregivers handle the situation.

For a trigger analysis, merely recounting the scenario after the outburst is insufficient. Instead, the therapist will have to take careful note of the parent’s or caregiver’s specific actions when their kid has a negative reaction.

What does the parent do on a daily basis? What kind of inquiries do they make? Is whatever the youngster was using confiscated by the parent? What is the child’s reaction? Is there a difference in response when the parent walks away?

Small details like these are what will make a trigger analysis valuable. If a consequence established by the parent does not reduce the behavior, it must be replaced with one that does. Working with a trigger analysis ABA therapist will remove ineffective consequences and put you in the direction of consequences that will better address the issue behavior.

Examining the Four Points

The therapist’s notes are examined in the last phase of a trigger analysis to understand how the behavior affects the kid. This entails determining what the youngster is hoping to gain from their bad conduct. This is significant since the notes should guide caregiver responses that do not reward the behaviors.

For example, even if a caregiver wants to be empathetic and nurturing, that kind of response might unwittingly reinforce the Problematic Habits. A good trigger analysis will point this out.

When it comes to this part of ABA therapy’s trigger analysis, there are four things to keep in mind to monitor what a kid is trying to accomplish with their behavior.

  1. Attention: If a youngster exhibits a bad behavior and receives praise for it, the behavior will persist. This is also true with negative attention, since any sort of attention (even negative attention) satisfies the child’s desire for some kind of reaction, no matter how little. To encourage their parents to pay attention to them, a youngster may intentionally damage themselves or a sibling.

  2. Access: In order to get access to anything, the youngster may behave disruptively. A youngster may behave out because they know it’s the fastest way to go to their parent’s tablet and play.

  3. Avoidance: Problem conduct may be used as a means of escaping a problem. In a school, for example, being disruptive may result in the youngster being thrown out of the room, which may be precisely what they want. While the teacher or caregiver may believe that removing the kid from the situation punishes them, it really reinforces the conduct.

  4. Automatic: Also known as stimming, when a youngster engages in repeated sensory activities to calm themselves down when they are worried or overwhelmed. This may take the form of flailing hands, swaying back and forth, slamming their skull against a wall, or other similar actions. A youngster who hums loudly every time they get in a vehicle because the sight of objects racing past distresses them is an example.

Identifying the Trigger

While an ABA therapist breaks down the consequences in this way, he or she can determine which of these four factors is in play when working with a client.

  • It might be attention if someone constantly comes over to check on the youngster when they act badly.

  • It might be access if the youngster is constantly given a toy, a reward, or a gadget.

  • It might be avoidance if the child’s troublesome conduct causes specific activities around them to cease.

  • Even though the activity looks detrimental, it may be automatic if the youngster participates in it because it is the only way they can calm themselves.

This leads to the last phase in the trigger analysis process, which is to filter down everything to find the trigger. This necessitates an elimination process, so parents and caregivers will have to try out several replies until they discover one that properly addresses the child’s behavior. This requires a tremendous lot of patience, consistency in replies, and further ABA therapist monitoring.

Although the trigger may not appear right away, the treatment team must continue to work until it does.

After the ABA therapist has identified the triggers, they may proceed to the next phase in the process: behavior intervention.


Anger-Inducing Behaviors (May 2016). Psych Central is a website dedicated to mental health.

Behavior’s ABC’s (Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence). (Aug. 2017) Psych Central is a website dedicated to mental health.

Appendix A: Hypothetical Examples of Trigger Analysis. (January 2017). Behavioral Classification System for Problematic Habits in Schools.

Understanding Broken Tasks Through Trigger Analysis (In January of 2004) The Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction Task Analysis.

Basic ABA Concept With Examples: Four Functions of Behavior (Aug. 2019) Psych Central is a website dedicated to mental health.

Setting Events to Improve the Effectiveness of Behavior Plans for People With Autism Spectrum Disorders (April 15, 2015) News on the Autism Spectrum

ABA therapy is a type of therapy that uses positive reinforcement to help children with autism. Trigger analysis is the process of identifying and analyzing triggers for behavior that can be used to change the child’s behavior. Reference: positive reinforcement aba.

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