Assessment-Based Antecedent Interventions Used in Natural Settings to Reduce Challenging Behavior: An Analysis of the Literature

Article excerpt


Intervention for challenging behavior has long been characterized by consequence approaches, which often meant the application of aversive procedures[degrees]. However, in recent years the development and refinement of functional assessment has brought about alternative approaches to behavior management. Antecedent interventions represent one alternative. Because antecedent intervention approaches are relatively new, a number of questions remain regarding utility and applicability. The current paper reviews empirical research describing assessment-based antecedent interventions implemented in natural settings. Descriptive information is provided along a number of dimensions pertaining to participant characteristics, assessment utilized, and intervention attributes.


In relatively recent years, educators, parents, and practitioners have come to value the importance of an assessment-based intervention for addressing challenging behavior. (e.g., Miltenberger, 2000). This resulted, in part, because intervention efforts came to focus almost exclusively on consequence procedures alone (e.g., Pelios, Morren, Tesch, &; Axeirod, 1999), Specifically, at the core of behavioral intervention is the three-term contingency consisting of an antecedent, behavior, and consequence, That is, most behavior is believed to occur subsequent to some type of environmental event (i.e., an antecedent) which then may be maintained if it is followed by an event that is pleasurable or reinforcing (i.e., consequence). Although consequences encompass a variety of forms, including positive reinforcement, instructions, etc., concern emerged that when they were used in the context of challenging behavior, they often involved the application of very restrictive procedures, such as seclusionary time out, cor poral punishment, administration of noxious stimuli, etc, (e.g., Guess, Helmstetter, Turnbull, & Knowlton, 1987). In addition, behavior interventionists began to recognize that interventions might be strengthened if they focused on multiple facets of the three-term contingency. One promising facet involves the antecedents (e,g., Kern & Dunlap, 1998).

Antecedent-based interventions diverge considerably from consequence-based interventions because, rather than imposing a consequence following the occurrence of problem behavior, they instead focus on reducing the probability of problem behavior occurring (e.g., Luiselli, 1998). Thus, they can be considered proactive and preventive. An additional strength of this approach is that antecedent-based interventions can reduce or eliminate the need for punitive consequential procedures.

Antecedent interventions focus on two classes of antecedent events (Miltenberger, 1998). The first class of events, referred to as discriminative stimuli ([S.supd]), are variables or events that serve as signals for a particular behavior to occur. Behavior following an [S.sup.d] that is reinforced is likely to continue to occur. Although [S.sup.d]s also precede appropriate behavior, they have become the focus of intervention when they set the occasion for challenging behavior. To illustrate, a teacher may present a difficult math paper to a student ([S.sup.d). The student then proceeds to destroy the math paper. As a consequence, the student is sent to the office. In this example, the destructive behavior is likely to continue when undesirable math assignments are presented in the future because it has allowed the student to escape the assignment. As the example illustrates, this class of [S.sup.d] is present in the immediate environment in which problem behavior occurs.

The second class of antecedent events that may be suited to antecedent intervention is establishing operations. Establishing operations are events or conditions that alter the reinforcing properties of another event. Lack of sleep is an example of an establishing operation. …