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Many children with autism struggle with behavioral issues, which is often why parents seek out ABA therapy. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a popular therapy for treating autism and other developmental disorders. Children with autism think differently and need different kinds of support, and ABA therapy allows the child to learn skills in a more supportive environment.
What is Chaining in ABA Therapy?
One teaching method that’s typically incorporated in ABA is something known as a behavior chain or chaining. This method, which breaks the steps of directions into instructions that link to each other (hence, the term “chaining”), allows kids to complete an entire task that they otherwise would have struggled to complete. The string of behaviors links together to create a terminal behavior.
Chaining is useful because it helps children become proficient in completing complex directions that involve multiple steps. Its 3 main approaches (forward chaining, backward chaining, and total task chaining) are all designed to help a child learn complex, multi-step skills, like learning to wash their hands independently.
How is Chaining Done?
Chaining works by breaking a task down into small steps and teaching each step by itself within the sequence.
Let’s use the example of a child learning to wash their hands independently. In chaining, the child might start with learning how to turn the faucet on. Once the child has learned this initial skill, the next step might be for the child to learn how to put their hands under the water. After that, the child might learn how to scrub their hands.
The child continues to learn all the steps of washing their hands until they can wash their hands completely on their own. This process is done with the supervision and guidance of an ABA therapist, who then works with the parents to ensure progress is made at home. ABA therapy is, after all, only one part of the process! It’s important for practice and progress to be made at home, so the child can get used to performing these tasks in various settings.
When Should Chaining Be Used?
Chaining is usually recommended when a child consistently misses or skips steps, completes steps incorrectly, or is only able to perform some of the steps.
For example, when learning how to wash their hands, the child simply touches the faucet handle instead of turning it. That would be an ideal situation to incorporate chaining. The task of washing hands would be broken down into smaller steps, including the step to turn the faucet handle, and each step would be taught by itself until the child can independently wash their hands all on their own.
Another example would be the child independently turning the faucet on, rinsing their hands, and turning the faucet on, but consistently failing to get soap. Chaining would be used similarly in this example. The task would be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps until the child can perform the entire task, including getting soap, in its entirety all by himself or herself.
How do the 3 Types of Chaining Procedures Work?
Chaining works by building off of the skills that the child already knows. Based on what steps the child has already mastered or feels comfortable with, there are different chaining methods that can be used. The following methods can be used independently, or sometimes used together to help give the child support.
This type of behavioral chain begins with the first step. The child has to complete the first step on their own, and they’re prompted for all the remaining steps. Using the washing hands’ example, the child would independently turn on the faucet, and all the steps that follow would be prompted. Forward chaining is the recommended method if the child is able to complete one or more steps at the beginning of the behavior chain.
Backward chaining is much like forward chaining, but instead of having the child independently complete the first step, you have them independently complete the last step. For example, when teaching the child how to wash their hands, you prompt the child to perform every single step except the last one (e.g., drying their hands with a paper towel), which they complete on their own.
Total task chaining
This chain involves teaching the complete behavior chain one step after the other. Unlike forward and backward chaining, total task chaining doesn’t start or end with the child completing a step independently. Instead, the adult walks the child through all the steps, prompting whenever necessary. For some children with autism, total task chaining is too difficult and complex. Therefore, forward chaining and backward chaining are more commonly used for children who fall on the autism spectrum.
What’s the Difference Between Chaining and Task Analysis?
Chaining and task analysis often go hand in hand with each other. In fact, chaining is based on task analysis, which recognizes individual steps as requirements for the mastery of a task.
As you well know, chaining breaks a task down into a series of small steps and teaches each individual step within the sequence. Similarly, when conducting a task analysis, the ABA therapist first needs to determine the task that needs to be taught. Afterward, they write down the steps of the task, making adjustments as needed.
The therapist will then present the task to the student and watch their performance with each step of the task. Based on what they do and how they perform the task you gave them, the therapist is able to observe and gather insights. They can then decide which chaining techniques to use, and they start incorporating the chaining techniques.
As you can see, chaining can be a very effective way to teach children certain tasks, especially everyday repetitive tasks like washing hands and using the toilet. Because the method breaks down tasks into smaller, more doable steps, it’s helpful when teaching kids how to perform longer, more complex tasks.
But no two children are the same. Every child has their own strengths and weaknesses, and that’s why there are 3 types of chaining: forward chaining, backward chaining, and total task chaining.
Though this is most often used by therapists as a part of ABA therapy, it can also be used at home by parents. If you’re curious to get your child involved in ABA therapy, or you just want to know more about chaining, reach out to the therapists at Circle Care. We’re a New Jersey-based ABA therapy agency, and we help families of children with autism all across New Jersey. Reach out today to learn more about using chaining with your child!