ABA therapy

How Behavior Chaining Works in ABA Therapy

ABA therapy, short for applied behavior analysis or behavior therapy, focuses on studying behaviors – understanding them – and then incorporating techniques that promote expected behaviors and modify unexpected behaviors. One of the strategies our Fort Myers ABA therapy team employs is called “chaining.”

Chaining is a type of evidence-based technique that we can use to teach kids basic skills like handwashing or waiting their turn to more independent life skills.

The basic idea is that you’re breaking down each task into a series of mini-tasks. Many of us take for granted that skills like using the restroom or engaging in a conversation require numerous steps. We don’t give a second thought to every single step needed to complete everyday tasks – but there are, in fact, many. It takes some kids with developmental delays and disorders lots of practice to master each individual step.

Let’s take handwashing, for instance. It’s considered a single, simple task. But in ABA therapy, we recognize that there are many smaller steps to it. We break it down into little, teachable bits. These include:

  • Turning on the sink.
  • Adjusting the water temperature.
  • Getting your hands wet.
  • Pressing the soap dispenser (or grabbing the soap).
  • Moving the soap around in your hands.
  • Scrubbing your hands.
  • Rinsing off the soap.
  • Turning off the water.
  • Drying your hands.

We teach this series of tasks as one “behavior chain.” Once they have the first step down, we move onto the next step in the behavior chain. As the child gets comfortable with each “mini-task,” we add or “chain” new behaviors/tasks that are linked to it, so that it all becomes synched. The child learns what is expected – and what is not expected – as they move through the steps of each task.

As your child’s ABA therapist can further explain, there are several different ways of behavior chaining too, including total task chaining, forward chaining and backward chaining.

In forward chaining, we’re teaching the components of a certain behavior in a chronological order. First, we do this. Next we do this. Then we do this. Last, we do this. We start with positive reinforcement of the first behavior in the chain. Let’s say it’s turning on the sink. Once they have that down, then we move onto the next mini-task in the behavior chain – and so forth.

Then there is backward chaining. This is often used to create a sense of achievement, particularly when we’re tackling a really difficult task. Here, the therapist or the parent or caregiver gives hands-on support for all except the final mini-task, which the individual completes on their own. When they have that last step mastered, then we work backward, so that the next step is them completing the last two steps on their own. Backward chaining is a great way to boost a child’s confidence in their own abilities.

Finally, we have total task chaining. This involves the child performing the entire task on their own, but with prompting, reinforcement, and redirection only where necessary. They may be able to wash their hands, but struggle with adjusting the water temperature or getting the soap out. The ABA therapist (or parent or teacher) would give the child support for only those tasks.

Whatever approach we use, we’re working to break up the task into smaller units of behavior that are easier to understand.

If you have questions about behavior chaining in ABA therapy, our dedicated team of professionals is happy to help answer them! We want to see every child succeed, one “chain link” at a time.

FOCUS offers ABA therapy to kids in Southwest Florida, with two clinics in Fort Myers to serve children in Cape Coral, North Fort Myers, Estero, Bonita Springs and Lehigh Acres. Speech & occupational therapy are offered in-clinic as well as virtually. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Therapies for Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dec. 6, 2020, By Hillary Parker, WebMD

More Blog Entries:

How ABA Therapy Can Help Fort Myers Kids, Dec. 27, 2021, Fort Myers ABA Therapy Blog

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