A How to for Contingency Maps in the Sped Classroom

Contingency maps are a visual depiction based on the ABA principle that behavior follows the ABCs of behavior… antecedent, behavior, and consequences. 

Students with ASD have strong visual skills, but struggle with verbal explanation of rules. So visual supports work throughout the day using visual schedules, mini schedules, and token economies. These visual maps are another visual support tool that students can have as a resource to support them in learning rules.

Contingency maps are a visual representation that helps students learn how their behaviors are contingent, or tied to consequences.  In other words, it clearly lays out the outcomes of their behavior in black and white. They are more concrete and direct than social stories or verbal direction in teaching rules and skills for students and they are great for teaching students why a problem behavior has a consequence. It also helps to teach appropriate behavior instead of trying to punish a negative one. This behavioral intervention is a research-supported strategy so you are taking proactive steps that will actually work and not be a time waster.


It is important to define some terms before diving deep into contingency mapping.  The three most important are the ABCs of behavior.

Antecedent: What happens right before the behavior occurs (ex. direction given, presence of specific person) Many times this is an environmental trigger, but it does not have to be it could be a thought or a feeling too. 

Behavior: The action that is observable and measurable the child engages in (ex. sit in chair, raise hand, leave the teaching area). These are mostly thought of as undesired behaviors but positive behavior is behavior too!

Consequence: the event that comes directly after the behavior (ex. earn reinforcer, missed time from recess)


Contingency maps have a clear path of what consequence a child will have if they engage in a specific behavior.  It is like a road map for what will happen. I want you to think of these as educational materials but instead of reading or math it’s learning a new behavior! 

 When starting with a contingency map, you need to start with an antecedent event.  This can be a picture that goes in the black square below.  This can be altered to be an image of the child as well if the inappropriate behaviors occurs in many settings. 

The next step it to think about the target behavior, or good choices, you want the child to engage in and the undesired behavior they currently engage in.  Those two images will go next in the contingency map.  The desired behavior will go on top in the green row and the undesired behavior will go in the bottom row.

The final step of the ABCs is the consequence.  When a child engages in the desired behavior, what do they earn? When a child engages in the undesired behavior, what happens? These images go after the behavior images.  This of this part as the consequences of their actions, whether it is a positive one or negative.

There may need to be another step in here for students who engage in multiple behaviors or who need the steps broken down even more.  This can be added by just adding more steps in the chain.

Tips for Contingency Maps

  • Determine whether pictures or text will be best for your student. Remember, these visuals may be used at times when the child is escalated so you want to provide supports they will be able to access.
  • Be sure to always introduce behavioral contingency maps for the first time when a student is calm and at base line.
  • How many steps are needed? Is it a simple three step contingency or are there possibly four or five?
  • Once a student engages in the negative behavior, is there a way to get back to the correct choice? Possibly add in a calming strategy to help students return to baseline and make a different decision about their behavior.
  • These can work for early childhood students up to older students! You just need to make it appropriate for the age!
  • Keep it simple. Use a whiteboard if needed for an on the go visual contingency!

These are must-have resources if you are experiencing challenging behavior in your classroom or if other behavior interventions just haven’t worked.

Want some free templates and visuals to get you started in your special education classroom? Click here to download yours!

Happy teaching!

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