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What Is “Chaining” And How Is It Used In ABA Therapy? | Trumpet Behavioral Health

What Is “Chaining” And How Is It Used In ABA Therapy?


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Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy uses a variety of techniques to teach individuals with autism new skills. ABA focuses on understanding, teaching, and modifying behaviors – which means some ABA strategies can be used to teach many different skills. “Chaining” is an evidence-based technique that’s often used to teach a variety of skills, from handwashing to teaching more complex independent living skills.

Related: How Successful Is ABA Therapy?

What Is Chaining?

Chaining refers to teaching an individual with autism a certain behavior using behavior chains. Behavior chains are the sequence of mini-tasks that make up an entire behavior. For example, consider the mini-tasks involved in washing your hands:

  1. Turning the sink on
  2. Adjusting the temperature of the water
  3. Dampening your hands
  4. Pressing down on the soap dispenser
  5. Collecting soap into your hand
  6. Scrubbing your hands with soap
  7. Washing off the soap
  8. Drying your hands

Using chaining, individuals with autism will learn a behavior one mini-task at a time. Once one step becomes natural, they’ll move on to another step in the chain. As the individual becomes comfortable with each mini-task, new parts of the behavior will be linked or “chained” together until they master the entire behavior.

How Does Chaining Work?

When preparing to use chaining, your Trumpet therapy team will complete a task analysis. During this analysis, your Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) will break down the ideal behavior into small, teachable units like the example above.

There are several main chaining techniques, including forward chaining, backward chaining, and total task chaining. The technique your therapy team chooses to use to teach a certain skill depends on your child’s needs, goals, and the behavior they’re learning.

Forward Chaining

As the name suggests, forward chaining teaches the steps of a certain behavior in order. Using the example above, a child with autism would first learn how to turn on the sink. Every time they correctly turn on the sink, reinforcement will be provided. After the individual completes this first step consistently and accurately, they’ll move on to the second step in the chain.

Backward Chaining

Backward chaining requires the training team, parent, or another individual to complete all the steps of the chain except for the final skill. In our example, the therapy team would provide hands-on support for steps 1-7 and ask the individual to complete step #8. After the last step is mastered, your child will continue learning new steps in backward order. The focus of backward chaining is to help your child finish the task successfully. This can help them overcome more difficult challenges by providing a sense of achievement.

Total Task Chaining

Total task chaining asks individuals to perform the entire task until the behavior chain is completed, providing supplemental reinforcement and prompting where necessary. Using our example, if a child with autism was able to complete most of the tasks but struggled with turning on the water and pumping soap, the therapy team would provide support for only those steps.

At Trumpet Behavioral Health, we use evidence-based methods to help children with autism live life to their fullest. Contact us or find an ABA therapy center near you to learn more about how we can support your family today!


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Written by Joshua Sleeper, MBA, BCBA

Joshua Sleeper, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Trumpet Behavioral Health, started in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) over 20 years ago. In college, he began working as a part-time therapist for a school district in California. There, he...

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