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Collecting Baseline Data

So often we hear of people who want to lose weight, gain muscle, improve sleeping habits, change their diet, etc. How does lasting behavior change happen? How do we ever know if the target behavior has changed in the direction we want it to go? Knowing where we are starting from provides information on how much change we need to make, and if that change helped us achieve our goals. To improve my sleeping habits, I wore a tracker watch to bed, without changing my daily habits for a couple of weeks to get a starting point. Then I changed one aspect of my routine, such as my activity level, and analyzed the sleep data from my tracker to see if that influenced my sleep (and what that effect was).

What are Baselines?

Baseline information provides a starting point for comparisons. In the field of ABA, baseline information is collected prior to intervention – this provides the practitioner with data about where the learner is starting and is one factor in determining if intervention is effective. Find our more about choosing the right data collection method.

Why Collect Baseline Data?

Baseline data is important because it provides information on the current skill levels of the learner. Once an intervention is implemented, a comparison can be made between where the learner started and the progress they have made. The goal is for the data points to move in the intended direction.

We know if an intervention is effective and efficient if the data points are moving in the direction we want (i.e., data points should increase if it is a skill acquisition program; data points should decrease if it is a behavior reduction program; etc.).

How to Collect Baseline Data

When collecting baseline data, you want to give the learner an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the space, people, and expectations. It can be difficult to perform your best when it is a new space with unknown people and unclear expectations.

Once it is time to collect baseline data, the instructor should not conduct any teaching, corrections, or prompting. Social positive reinforcement can be provided for the behavior (e.g., “wow, you answered so quickly!”, etc.) and not for accuracy (e.g., “that’s right, it is a ____”).

What Comes After Baseline?

Baseline data provides a starting point to determine what should come next. An intervention plan can be put in place once baseline data is collected and analyzed. Data collection should be ongoing so that the instructor can identify if progress is being made and if mastery/revision criteria have been met.

Every new skill acquisition program should include baseline data collection. Although it is an extra step in the process, it saves time down the road. With baseline data you have information on specific targets that do not need to be taught as they already exist in the learner’s repertoire.

Watch our YouTube video on Collecting Baseline Data:


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