Chaining is an instructional strategy grounded in applied behavior analysis (ABA) theory. Chaining is based on task analysis, in which individual steps are recognized as requirements for task mastery.

Chaining breaks a task down into small steps and then teaches each step within the sequence by itself. For example, a child learning to wash his/her hands independently may start with learning to turn on the faucet. Once this initial skill is learned, the next step may be getting his/her hands, etc. This technique is helpful in assisting children to learn a routine task that is repetitive, such as using the bathroom, brushing teeth, putting on clothes and shoes, or completing a work task.

How to Determine the Steps of a Task

(Task Analysis)

Determine the task to teach  

Watch someone complete the task

Write down the steps of the task

Have someone else perform the task using the steps you have written

Make adjustments to the steps as needed

Present the task to the student or watch the skill performance in the natural setting

Take data on student performance with each step of the task

Based on data, decide which chaining techniques to use

There are two major types of chaining techniques:

Forward chaining. The forward chaining technique moves a child from the first part of the task to the end. In short, each step must be mastered before the next step in the skill series is added.

The steps in forward chaining:

1.The teacher teaches the child the first step in the chain.

2.When the first step is learned, the teacher adds the second step. The child is learning the second step in the routine and attaching it to the first step.

3.The third step is taught in conjunction with the first two steps once the child is able to demonstrate the first two steps.

Backward chaining. The backward chaining technique involves the same process as forward chaining, except in reverse. That is, the teaching process moves from the last step of the task to the beginning. This technique is used when it is easier to teach a child a task from the last step than from the beginning. The teacher provides the child assistance throughout the process until the last step.

The steps in backward chaining:

1.The student is encouraged to complete the last step independently.

2.When the last step is mastered, the teacher provides assistance until the child is able to perform the step before the last one.

3.The student completes more and more ending steps independently until he masters all steps and is able to complete the task without assistance.

When to Use

Chaining is a behavioral strategy used to teach students with autism complex behaviors by breaking them down into smaller sequential steps. One of two methods, forward chaining and backward chaining, is selected based on the nature of the task or the skill levels of the child.


Total Task Presentation

Total Task Presentation is when the student attempts all steps of the chain.

The steps in total task presentation:

1.  Present the entire task to the student

2. The Student Continues until every step is mastered.

3. Prompting is provided as needed for each step

4. Reinforcement is then provided upon completing the last step of the analysis

Total Task Presentation Example

Putting on coat

•-Locate his coat from the hooks in the hall

•Bring the coat inside the classroom

•Lay the coat down on the floor

•Make sure the zipper/buttons are facing up

•Locate the top of the coat

•Stand with the tips of your toes touching the top of the coat

•Squat down

•Place your arms out in front of you, palms facing down

•Slide one hand part way into the sleeve on the same side

•Slide your other hand part way into the other empty sleeve

•Leaving your hands in the sleeves, slowly start to stand up

•Raise your arms, with the coat, slowly in front of you

•“Flip” the coat over your head

•Slide your hands the rest of the way through the sleeves.

Research List

1.Rayner, C. (2011). Teaching students with autism to tie a shoelace knot using video prompting and backward chaining. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 14(6), 339-347.

Three students with autism were taught shoelace tying. Using video prompting, backwards chaining, modeling and verbal instruction, they learned how to tie their shoes.

2.Seiverling, L., Pantelides, M., Ruiz, H.H., & Sturmey, P. (2010). The effect of behavioral skills training with general-case training on staff chaining of child vocalizations within natural language paradigm. Behavioral Interventions, 25, 53-75.

The purpose of this study was to evaluate behavioral skills training as a method to teach three staff members to implement a Natural Language Paradigm treatment strategy with a child with ASD. In a multiple-baseline-design-across-staff-members, all three learned to correctly implement teaching procedures, and 2 of the 3 children with ASD showed related increases in vocalizations. Social validity ratings by trained behavior analysts did not indicate meaningful clinical changes for the children as a result of treatment, however.

3.Twarek, M., Cihon, T., & Eshleman, J. (2010). The effects of fluent levels of big 6 + 6 skill elements on functional motor skills with children with autism. Behavioral Interventions, 25, 275-293.

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