Importance of Data Collection
Data collection is a vital component of any educational program for children and teenagers with autism, whether it is a school-based or home-based program. It is important to take data about current levels of skills or behavior before beginning any new intervention strategy: a new diet, an ABA home program, occupational therapy, etc. This is called baseline data, and it is used to compare current skill levels with post-intervention data. It is also important to take data during the intervention. For example, if a student is consistently not mastering an objective, it may be necessary to re-evaluate the strategy for that objective. Keeping an eye on the data helps parents and teachers notice when this is happening. Data collection also helps measure the effects of an intervention. If data were not collected, we would just be relying on our impressions of changes in the student’s academics or behavior. Data shows if a change, even a small change, is occurring. It also prevents the continuation of an intervention if it is not beneficial for the student.
Types of Data
There are many standardized assessments available for purchase. One assessment that is very common, particularly for young children with autism, is the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (the ABLLS™). This comprehensive assessment measures aspects of communication, self-help, and academic skills. The ABLLS™ is often used to create an intervention program based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. More information about the ABLLS™ and other assessments can be found in this issue’s section of data collection links.
This method is commonly used by teachers in many academic programs. It involves giving a student a test of material before an intervention or educational strategy is used, and giving a test of the same materials after the intervention has been used.
Event recording is used to record all instances of a specific, discrete behavior during a specified time period. Behaviors that you record with this type of data should have a clear beginning and end, so that each instance of the behavior can be easily tallied or counted. This type of data is often expressed as a rate per minute, rate per hour, etc. An example might be the number of times a student raises his hand during math class.
Duration recording is used to record the length of time a student is engaged in a specific, discrete behavior. Like event recording, any behavior that you record with duration recording should have a clear beginning and ending, so that you know when to start and stop recording the time. An example might be the length of time a student reads independently during silent reading time.
Interval recording is used to estimate the length of time that is student is engaged in a particular behavior, or to estimate the number of instances of a behavior. To take interval data, begin by choosing a length of time that you will observe (typically short – perhaps 10 minutes of a one hour class period). Next, divide this amount of time into short intervals (often 10 seconds). For each short interval, record if the behavior occurs during the interval. There are two ways to do this. For partial-interval recording, record if the behavior occurs at any point during the interval. For whole-interval recording, record if the behavior occurs throughout the entire interval. This type of data works well if you have limited time to take data, as it gives you an estimate based on a shorter observation time, but keep in mind that it is only an estimate.
Latency recording is used to record the amount of time between an instruction or prompt and the initiation of a behavior. Again, the behavior should be clearly defined, so that it is clear when to stop recording. This data is recorded similarly to duration recording.
A permanent product is simply a product left over as the result of a behavior. This could be a completed worksheet, a cleaned bedroom, or a finished art project.
Data collection methods are vital to ensuring that educational programs for students with autism are working. They are used to assess a variety of skills and behaviors, and to both create and evaluate intervention strategies. Please continue to explore this month’s issue for additional resources about data collection, and look at the new resources section for free data sheets to download.