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Backward and Forward Chaining in ABA Explained

ABA involves various time-saving techniques that speed up the learning process and help students master skills more efficiently. 

One of those strategies is Chaining that many ABA specialists and therapists use to teach someone a complex task.

Complex tasks mean something that involves several complex behaviors or steps. For example, ABA Therapists in Chicago and Downer’s Grove can create a chain of tasks to help teach a child how to wash his or her hands. 

Here’s how it works…

  • Turn on water
  • Grab soap with your right hand
  • Dampen the soap with water
  • Turn off water
  • Make a lather and spread it all over your hands
  • Put soap back to its place
  • Turn water on 
  • wash hands
  • Turn off water
  • Dry your hands with a towel

Because it is far too much to teach a child all steps of handwashing at once, chaining breaks it down into several steps to make the entire process easy to learn and follow. 

In this post, we’re going to have a quick look at the basics of this amazing ABA technique. Also, we will highlight its types to help you get a clear idea of how it works. 

What is Chaining?

As discussed above, a chain of steps you need to complete any individual task is called chaining. 

The end of each task leads to the start of a new task.  The process continues until you have successfully completed a task. 

The good thing about this process is it’s quite flexible. You don’t always have to start the chain from the top. In fact, you can also change your direction and move from the bottom to the top if need be. 

Types of Chaining

The two most common types of chaining techniques include:

Forward Chaining

Forward chaining, as its name hints, requires a student to master all previous steps before they move to the next steps. Let’s continue with the example we shared with you before.

A therapist will only go to the next step once he knows the child has learned to turn on the faucet independently. 

This approach is recommended when a child can complete all the initial steps without much assistance or pressure. 

Because forward chaining uses the behavior momentum, it is easier for the child to pick and process all steps in their natural sequence. The only downside is that the child needs to master every single step before he gets a chance to reach the final step. 

Backward Chaining

If a child is more comfortable carrying forward the tasks from the end, you can opt for backward chaining. 

You would prompt the chain of behaviors, except for the final behavior in the chain. 

The child must be independent in the last steps before learning or mastering the initial or middle-level steps. 

Tips for Chaining

  • Forward chaining strategy is simple and easy to explain. Also, it makes more sense to follow a natural sequence of steps rather than moving backward. If your student is having difficulty initiating a task, you can use the forward-chaining approach. This will enable him to practice the first steps repeatedly. As a result, it would be easier for him to start a task independently
  • Backward chaining is more focused on reinforcement. This approach is useful for children who stall out mid steps and require a prompt to get back on track. As they will practice the final steps independently than the initial steps so the task will become easier as they go through it
  • Do not use verbal cues at each step as it will make a child more dependent on a prompt instead of taking the initiative independently
  • Since ABA doesn’t support a one-size-fits-all approach, it is important to work on an individualized plan regardless of the type of chaining approach you’ll choose for the child
  • Always talk with your child’s OT or teacher before implementing any new technique or teaching a new skill
  • After creating a task, make sure you complete the behavior chain yourself. This will help you ensure the chain is complete and you haven’t skipped any steps
  • Remember, not every task will be as simple as washing hands or brushing teeth. So get in touch with a professional to help you create a comprehensive list

Forward VS Backward Chaining – Which is Better?

It depends. We can’t tell which one of these techniques is better because both are beneficial and used widely to treat different children.

The approach you should choose depends on the child. Some children are more comfortable learning with the forward chaining techniques, while others learn quickly with backward or other types of chaining approaches. 

The best way to determine what works for the child is to observe and do your research. Determine what responses you get using both these strategies. Then go with the one that delivers quick and effective results.

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