What is a Setting Event?
Setting events are prior events or occurrences that influence negative behavior. For example, if I wake up and realize that there is no coffee in my house and then my car does not start, I am much more likely to snap at a co-worker than if my morning had gone smoothly. These occurrences can be internal or external influences. They can happen hours or even days or months before the behavior. This is what differentiates a setting event from a trigger. It is important in ABA that we acknowledge setting events, determine how they affect our clients and find solutions or workarounds in order to improve behavior.
Common Setting Events
Setting events can be tricky for the therapist because there are so many different things that can happen to change the behavior of a client. And things that set off one client might not have any effect on another client. However, there are some things that typically have a negative impact on most people. These are things like lack of sleep, hunger or an unstable home life. The basic needs of the client must be met for improvement to occur. Sometimes the therapist is aware of these things and sometimes we are not. This is why asking questions of our clients and their parents when appropriate can create big changes.
Other Things to Consider
Some setting events can be consistent, like the unstable home life. But some will only occur occasionally. This might be the client not feeling well or having a random fight with their mom before school. There are also setting events that we might not naturally think about. This is things like too much screen time or even too much sleep. As therapists, we must look at the big picture when evaluating behavior.
Is an FBA needed?
When consistent negative behaviors are occurring we need to spend some time figuring out what is going on. Sometimes this may require an FBA. The big question then becomes if we have determined that there is a setting event, do we still need an FBA? The simple answer is maybe. Just because a setting event is present, an FBA may still need to be completed. But, if you have determined a setting event is present then you should try to correct it as you work on improved behavior.
How do you Correct a Setting Event?
You have determined that a setting event is present and that it is resulting in negative behaviors for your client. So what is next? How do we correct the influence to avoid the behavior? Because setting events can be incredibly unique, there is not necessarily a correct answer here. But just like other areas of therapy, there is a list of things that we can use as a jumping board. This may include parent coaching..teaching bedtime routines so the client gets enough sleep. Or the family may need financial assistance for food and you can connect them with resources. Or maybe the need is more focused attention because they are having to share parent time with a new sibling. Correcting setting events may take some creativity so the key is to start somewhere and ask alot of questions.
There are some setting events that we will never be able to completely diminish for our clients. With these types of influences occur, it is important to find ways to accommodate the client so that more positive outcomes occur. This is often done in a trial and error method. Make sure you don’t give up, on yourself or your client. A better day is just ahead.