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  • Colin Maynard

Things you could see in a session of ABA Therapy: Part 4

Task analyses are very important tools for teaching skills that have many different steps to them.

Many of the tasks that an individual completes on a day to day basis are often taken for granted. However, when you begin to teach these tasks to a child or an individual with special needs it quickly becomes apparent how many steps these “minor” tasks truly have. It also becomes clear how overwhelming this number of steps can be for some of those we work with.

When attempting to teach these tasks to a child on the spectrum we use a tool known as a Task Analysis. A Task Analysis, or TA as we refer to them, writes out and breaks all the individual steps down into observable parts.

For example, if we are working with a child that has trouble brushing his teeth independently a simple TA might look like this:

  1. Get toothbrush and toothpaste from cabinet

  2. Put toothpaste on toothbrush

  3. Wet the toothbrush

  4. Brush left teeth

  5. Brush right teeth

  6. Brush front teeth

  7. Brush tongue

  8. Rinse mouth

  9. Spit out water

  10. Wipe mouth

  11. Put away toothbrush and toothpaste

While this is just an example and many families might teach a child to brush their teeth in a different order, it’s easy to see how many steps there are to our daily habits. Attempting to teach this many steps all together could be very frustrating for any child, and as we all know, instructing an individual on the spectrum can require some “out-of-the-box” thinking.

The best method for teaching these skills is often through a Task Analysis. A TA can be used in a variety of different ways. A child that already understands the basics of how to brush their teeth but often forgets to brush their tongue and wipe their mouth will benefit from a Total Task Analysis. A child that knows only a few steps of the task will benefit from either forward or backward chaining.

All TA's have observable and measurable steps.

Forward chaining is used when more steps are known towards the beginning, or we feel it will be easier to teach the earlier steps. When using forward chaining only the first few steps are being taught and data is only taken on those steps. We will prompt them through the rest of the task to make it functional, but we won’t be tracking their responses.

With brushing teeth, perhaps an individual is very good about getting their toothbrush and toothpaste but often forgets the order of what follows. We would allow them to get their toothbrush and toothpaste independently and then prompt them through the remaining steps. An additional benefit of this method is using behavioral momentum.

Behavioral momentum is when we work through tasks quickly and the frequent reinforcement encourages the child to continue working and be more independent. With Forward Chaining, the easier steps at the beginning are easier to move through and receive extra reinforcement, rapidly building momentum for the rest of the task.

Backwards Chaining is effective when the last few steps are known or easier. Opposite to forward chaining, we will prompt the whole skill and allow the child to complete the last few steps on their own. If the skill is completely unknown, we can prompt through the entire process and only focus on teaching the last few steps. We will only track data on the last few steps and only prompt the last few steps as well.

An added benefit of backwards chaining is that the hardest step, the one completed independently, is paired with the biggest reinforcement, such as being done with the work! As the steps move on, and the independent step is no longer the last step, this bigger reinforcement can be in the form of tokens or additional praise for the steps the child is learning.

Any individual receiving ABA therapy will likely have various TAs in place which you might see through the course of a session. In addition to brushing teeth, many functional skills can be taught through TAs and are often implemented during functional times throughout the session. If it’s lunch time we might teach setting the table with a Task Analysis. Right after lunch is an appropriate time to teach brushing teeth or cleaning the table.

In the long run, it isn’t challenging to teach a child a new habit or response in the presence of reinforcement and praise. It can be much more challenging to teach a skill at a functional time throughout the day. For this reason an effective ABA Therapy session might not look much like a traditional notion of a ‘therapy session’.


I Love ABA. (2013, September). Back & Forward Chaining [Blog post]. Retrieved from

For more information contact Keystone Achievements.



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