Continuous vs. Discontinuous Measurement (ABA)

Data collection methods in ABA involve the therapist counting the specific amount of times a behavior occurs or each instance when it happens.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
November 5th, 2022
4.5
min read

Continuous Data Collection

When a professional decides to use continuous data collection, they will use different collection methods that are capable of measuring every occurrence of a behavior. 

With these methods, the professional will either count the specific amount of times a behavior occurs or each instance when it happens.

There are several systems that a professional can choose that provide continuous data, and now, we will go over a few of the different types of data collection that are considered continuous.

continuous vs discontinuous measurement

Frequency

Frequency is an easy collection data system that falls under continuous data collection. It is a simple account of how often the behavior occurs, and it uses simple tally marks or small objects to keep track.

An example would be for the professional to have small beads in their pocket, and when they witness the behavior, they will move one bead to an empty pocket to be able to count the occurrences at the end of the session. Using frequency to measure data is best with behaviors that:

  • Have a clear beginning and end
  • The rate can accurately be counted

Example of a frequency data sheet that can be used.

Rate

Rate measurements are best used when there isn't a set time duration for each session. 

Instead of counting each time it occurs, like frequency, the rate is based on the number of times the behavior occurs over some time. 

To calculate the rate of behavior, the professionals will divide the frequency by the duration of the session, and the rate is expressed as a number per unit of time.

Here is an example of an ABA rate data sheet.

Discontinuous Data Collection

Unlike continuous data collection, discontinuous data collection is the opposite. It uses collection methods that only are a sample of behavior that occurs in a session in small increments of time.

Depending on the environment, discontinuous data collection could be easier to count, but it is not as accurate as continuous data collection.

Partial Interval

This data collection method is where the professional records data in broken up segments or intervals throughout the session. Partial Interval is best used when behavior doesn't have a clear start and stop.

The behavior also occurs at such a high rate that it's impractical to attempt to count each occurrence, or if there is an estimate of the frequency of the behavior is acceptable.

Whole Interval

With Whole Interval fat collection, the professional will break the session up into equal parts or intervals.

This method is usually used when the behavior occurs over long periods of time.

This method might also be used when it is acceptable to use an overestimate of the targeted behavior, or when it is considered to be impractical to use duration recording in the teaching setting.

Other Data Collection Methods in ABA

Continuous and discontinuous data collection are not the only two types of data collection methods available. However, they are some of the easiest forms of data collection. Here are a few other types of data collection that professionals might use.

ABC Data Collection

ABC Data is often used when a professional is deducting a functional behavior assessment (FBA). This type of data collection method looks at what happens before and after the behavior happens that the professional is interested in.

This type of data collection is mainly used to provide professionals with the information they need to help predict and prevent the targeted behavior.

Scatterplot Data Collection

This type of data collection is best used when the professional needs to provide information of the behavior occurring across different parts of the day, either in activities or timeframes.

Plus, it allows for visual analysis when there are patterns in the behavior that can be collected.

Pros and Cons of Each Data Collection Method

Each type of collection method has its pros and cons, and some are better to use in different situations. Now that we have gone over the different types of data collection methods, here are some key points for their pros and cons that you should consider.

Frequency

Pros:

  • Easy to count
  • Works best with behaviors that have a clear beginning and end
  • Can be measured with a simple data sheet or use of small objects

Cons:

  • Doesn't take into consideration the length of time the session lasts

Rate

Pros:

  • Rate is only measured during certain parts of the day
  • Sessions don't have to be consistent

Cons:

  • Rate will not keep track of how often the behavior occurs as accurately as frequency

Discontinuous Data Collection

Pros:

  • Used when the behavior needs to be taken in intervals
  • Had some visual data options for professionals to use

Cons:

  • Isn't best when the data needs to be accurate
  • Not good when data cant be easily broken down into intervals
steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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