What Is Forward Chaining in ABA Therapy?

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Forward chaining is a technique that relies on the child’s ability to process information based on what they know in order to complete unfinished thoughts. In children with autism, forward chaining can be used as an alternative way of formulating and completing various sentences. This article will explore how this therapy works, why it might be helpful for individuals living with autism, and some ways one could use this type of approach at home.,

Forward chaining is a type of behavioral therapy that helps children with autism to learn how to do new things. It works by teaching new skills one step at a time and then moving on to the next skill. A forward chaining example would be teaching a child how to brush their teeth before teaching them how to floss.


Forward chaining is one of two forms of chaining used to educate children with developmental problems like autism multi-step or difficult abilities. Task analysis is a technique used by applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapists to break down a task’s phases so that they may be taught in little chunks.

Forward chaining rewards the youngster for completing and thoroughly integrating the initial little segment. The therapist may then go to the next phase, and so on, until the whole process is understood. This method works for putting on clothing, preparing a sandwich, cleaning one’s teeth, and a variety of other personal duties.

ABA Therapy, Chaining & the Learning Process

Autism is often diagnosed in children around the age of two, which is a critical period in brain development. Autism is a developmental issue that manifests itself in your child’s inability to acquire new abilities, language, or actions. They may find it difficult to keep their new abilities, or they may cease acquiring new knowledge on top of what they already know.

You may discover an applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapist to help your kid reject maladaptive tendencies and build good behaviors, including new methods to acquiring new abilities as they grow, after they are diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum.

Chaining is a concept in applied behavior analysis (ABA) treatment that happens when a bigger task is broken into smaller tasks and then connected together to achieve the larger job. Chaining may be divided into two categories.

  • Forward chaining occurs when a behavior is taught in a “logical” or chronological manner, with each step rewarded. The task’s components are reinforced one by one as they are learnt until the first step is completed. The second step is mastered after that, and so forth.

  • Forward chaining is the polar opposite of backward chaining. A therapist, teacher, or parent assists the person with autism in completing each task step by step until the final one is completed. The conduct is then encouraged since the step was completed independently.

Because they do not understand how to link specific actions together, children with autism may have difficulty learning skills. Several studies have shown that utilizing behavior chains to aid children with autism may help them develop vocational and occupational skills, allowing them to live as independently as feasible.

Otherwise, multi-step talents might be tough to master. Behavior chaining has been demonstrated to be an effective strategy for learning a variety of skills that might help people become more independent.

Forward chaining is a notion that entails building on one step before adding another until a multi-step process is completed. This entails breaking down and teaching the very first step of a job to persons on the autism spectrum, particularly youngsters.

This learning process is continued until the individual is able to execute the activity without assistance. The second phase is introduced once the first has been completely incorporated. This technique is repeated until the whole assignment has been mastered.

Using Task Analysis and Forward Chaining

A kid with autism must master a variety of activities but may skip stages in some of them, which may be distressing for parents or instructors who are unsure how to explain the problem. Brushing their teeth is a common example given.

Each step of getting toothpaste out of the cupboard, placing it on a wet toothbrush, and cleaning for a set period of time might be taught to the youngster. However, since the focus is on personal cleanliness, they may overlook other crucial components of the procedure, such as replacing the cap on the toothpaste, rinsing off the toothbrush, and wiping their mouth after spitting.

An ABA therapist may use task analysis to help the kid grasp each stage of the process and identify where the breakdowns occur. Children with autism may learn a variety of things by breaking them down into smaller chunks and employing forward chaining to finish them.

The basic forward chaining approach for a therapist, parent, or teacher may look like this:

  • With or without the kid present, the therapist, parent, or teacher lays down the phases in the process.

  • They teach the very first stage in the procedure to the youngster with autism.

  • The youngster is then rewarded for completing the first phase of the procedure until the knowledge is clearly remembered.

  • Once the first step is mastered, the teacher, therapist, or parent may introduce the second.

  • In chronological sequence, the third step should be taught alongside the prior two stages. This process is repeated until the youngster has mastered each stage.

The joke about creating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a nice example. A student is asked to demonstrate how to prepare a peanut butter and jelly sandwich by a teacher. Above a certain age, neurotypical youngsters instinctively understand how to do things like open the bag to pull bread out, take a butter knife out of the drawer, open jars, and so on. They will not, however, discuss the assignment in this manner.

They may instead say something like, “Get the bread.” Spread peanut butter on one of the pieces now.” They will not understand that you must open the jar of peanut butter, take a little amount with a butter knife, and spread it on one side of one piece of bread that has been taken from its bag. Some individuals, especially children with autism, may find the procedure perplexing without this level of detail.

With task analysis and forward chaining, you can see how a seemingly basic operation like spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread may need to be broken down further into many phases in order to be completed effectively.

Forward Chaining is supported by scientific research.

A tiny research looked at how forward and backward chaining may be used to teach particular motor skills to children with exceptional needs. In eight of the 16 events involving four participants, forward chaining resulted in fewer trials for mastery; backward chaining resulted in fewer trials in six of the events; and two of the events showed no difference.

The differences between forward and backward chaining were not statistically significant, indicating that children with specific needs, such as those with autism, benefit equally from both. Any differences might be related to the child’s unique personality and demands. This applied to both short and lengthy jobs.

Children who were taught forward or backward chaining performed better on taught motor skills than those who were not. This shows that children with unique challenges, such as autism, might learn more when they are given assistance in breaking down stages that would normally need implicit teaching, body language, or imagery to convey.

The findings also suggest that therapists, instructors, and parents can teach multi-step activities to children with autism using either forward or backward chaining, and that both methods benefit the kid. While careful observation of the individual child’s responses and successes aids the adult in determining which method works best, the therapist, teacher, or parent may have a slight preference for one method over another, which can affect how well the task is explained through forward or backward chaining.

Forward chaining makes the most sense for many individuals because it breaks out each phase from beginning to end, producing a comprehensive picture.

One way to assist your child is to use forward chaining.

Forward chaining breaks down activities into extremely tiny pieces that are taught in a sequential order. This technique makes sense to parents, teachers, and therapists who want to help children with autism acquire new abilities or improve on ones they already have.

There are various ways to chain, but for many people, the process of taking the first step, rewarding the kid until he or she understands it completely, and then going on to the next stage makes the most sense.


What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder, and What Does It Mean? (February 2020). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a U.S. government agency that (CDC).

With a Real-Life Example of Shaping, Chaining, and Task Analysis (February 20, 2020) Central Psychiatry.

Chaining forward (2017). ScienceDirect.

Chaining of behaviors. Science in Autism Treatment Association (ASAT).

Nebraska Autism Spectrum Disorders Network. Chaining.

An Evaluation of Forward and Backward Chaining Efficacy and Child Preference (2011). The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis is a publication dedicated to the study of human behavior.

Chained Instrumental Behaviors under Contextual Control. (2016). Animal Learning and Cognition is a journal of experimental psychology.

Instruction in General Communication Using ABA Principles (May 2001). SAGE Publications.

The Role of Task Analysis and Chaining in Applied Behavior Analysis Autism Resource Center of Indiana

In ABA therapy, the therapist will work on a single skill at a time. This is called “forward chaining”. It is important to understand how forward chaining works in order to learn more about ABA therapy. Reference: chaining aba example.

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