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Why Frequency Matters in ABA Data Collection

By Tania Duarte, M.S., BCBA

When most people think of frequency within ABA data collection, they think in terms of increments of time. However, in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), frequency is simply how many times a behavior occurs. He raised his hand ten times is an example of frequency. However, he raised his hands an average of five times an hour is an example of rate. Rate and frequency have both advantages and disadvantages. In ABA, there are many different forms of data collection methods; let’s explore some of the different ways you can collect data.

What are the advantages of rate? Rate has greater accuracy when you are tracking data across sessions that may not be the exact same length of time. Imagine you are evaluating how often a client engages in aggression, but he has longer sessions on Friday. Suppose you’re utilizing frequency and graphing how many instances of aggression the client engages in per day on the graph. In that case, it may appear that there are significant increases in aggression on Fridays even though, in reality, the reason for the perceived increase is the longer sessions.

So if rate provides greater accuracy, why do people still utilize frequency? Frequency is more commonly used than rate due to its convenience. Rate has the extra step of starting and stopping timers and then calculating the behavior divided by the time. With frequency, it is simply just a count, and it is simpler to track.

With both rate and frequency, you need to track each occurrence of a behavior. However, sometimes that can be extremely difficult. Some behaviors may occur too frequently or be challenging to track a discrete beginning and end to count as individual occurrences. Also, sometimes it may not be the frequency that matters as much as how long the behavior occurs. For instance, you might say the client had one instance of screaming in an hour. However, a single instance of ten seconds of screaming in an hour looks a lot different than ten minutes of continuous screaming in an hour.

If it’s too challenging to record each instance of a behavior, what are my options? Interval recording is an excellent option for behaviors that don’t have a discrete beginning or end or occur too frequently. Interval recording includes whole interval, partial interval, and momentary time sampling. With interval recording, you record the presence of the behavior within the interval of your choosing, could be every ten seconds, every minute, every ten minutes, etc. The whole interval requires the behavior to occur throughout the entire interval to be counted as an occurrence. Partial interval requires the behavior to occur at any point throughout the interval to count as an occurrence. Then, momentary time sampling requires the behavior occurs at the very end of the interval to count as an occurrence.

When is it a good idea to utilize interval recording? Imagine your client continuously engages in echolalia throughout their session; how challenging would it be for you to run programs and also count each individual occurrence of echolalia? For this reason, you would likely gravitate to a partial interval or momentary time sampling as a form of data collection. With partial interval recording, you would only need to observe the behavior once throughout the interval to count it as an occurrence. For momentary time sampling, you would only need to record the occurrence of the behavior was displayed at the end of the interval. This is a lot simpler than trying to count each individual occurrence.

The Key Takeaway: Automated Data Collection Tool

Collecting Data with Catalyst

As an ABA therapist, you probably ask yourself, “How can I easily keep track of all my data?” {You ask yourself this question if you don’t have an ABA data collection tool already in place, of course!)

In the field, clickers are commonly used to collect frequency and rate data. However, they can become extremely bulky, complicated, and even hazardous to carry around. If you rely on paper data, you may need to carry a few different tools; a timer, multiple clickers for different frequency counts, papers, and a writing utensil. This can become super challenging to carry around and keep track of when you are in a session. Also, if you collect data this way, you eventually need to transfer and input it somewhere else to graph it.

This is why data collection software, built specifically for ABA therapists, changes your work life. Catalyst is perhaps the best-known ABA data collection tool–for a good reason! With Catalyst, you can collect all your data on your personal device, and then the system will automatically graph your data. The Catalyst app has a timer for duration data, multiple tally buttons for frequency or rate, and you can even take interval data. Additionally, you can take data on your targets and score the specific prompt you utilized when running that trial.

Catalyst can be used alone or with your practice management software. The premiere data collection tool integrates with all Therapy Brands’ ABA practice management solutions–whether that’s WebABA, AccuPoint, or NPAWorks by CodeMetro. Try Catalyst free for 14 days by clicking here.

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Tania Duarte, M.S., BCBA

Tania Duarte received her M.S. in Applied Behavior Analysis from Florida State University. She has over ten years of clinical experience working with individuals with disabilities in various settings, including schools, homes, clinics, and community settings. Additionally, she has worked with DataFinch's Customer Experience Team, assisting ABA practitioners with their data collection software needs. Tania currently serves as the eLearning M.A. Program Coordinator at ABA Technologies and works with students pursuing their masters in ABA at the Florida Institute of Technology.