A behavioral chain consists of a series of steps that occur in a specific order, resulting in a complex behavior. Essentially, it is a set of steps used to carry out intricate actions like washing your hands.
Before implementing a chaining procedure, a task analysis must be conducted in which a complex behavioral unit is broken down into smaller stimulus-response units known as links.
Behavior chains are utilized as effective strategies to teach children with autism diverse skills, ranging from self-help tasks and vocational abilities to communication.
What is the difference between a behavior chain and chaining?
Chaining is a teaching method that involves using behavior chains, which are sequences of individual behaviors that create a final behavior when linked together. The first step in teaching a behavior through chaining is to conduct a task analysis.
What are the three types of chaining in ABA?
Chaining may be used to teach complex behavior using three main methods: forward chaining, backward chaining, and total task chaining.
- Forward chaining – The forward chaining technique is a teaching method used by educators to help children learn new skills and behaviors. It is based on the idea of breaking down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable steps and having the child master each step before progressing to the next. This strategy allows the learner to build upon what they already know, as they become increasingly comfortable with each step, instead of trying to tackle the whole task.
- Backward chaining – The backward chaining technique is like forward chaining, but in reverse. It starts from the last step of the task and moves backwards. This method is used when it’s easier to teach a child from the end of the task. The teacher helps the child until they reach the last step. Backward chaining is the procedure that is typically used for people with limited abilities.
- Total task chaining – The total task chaining method consists of teaching a complex behavior in one trial. This method involves breaking down the entire behavior into individual components which are then sequentially linked together until the desired outcome is achieved. The goal of total task chaining is to give the learner an understanding of how each component contributes to the overall behavior.
Creating a task analysis:
- Watch someone complete the task
- Write down each step from beginning to end of completing the task
- Have someone else use the steps written down to complete the task (Make adjustments to the steps as needed)
- Present the task to the child or watch the skill performance in the natural setting
- Take data on the child’s performance with each step of the task
- Based on the data, decide which chaining method to use
Example of a task of putting on a coat:
- Locate his coat from the hooks in the hall
- Lay the coat down on the floor
- Make sure the zipper/buttons are facing up
- Locate the top of the coat
- Stand with the tips of your toes touching the top of the coat
- Squat down
- Place your arms out in front of you, palms facing down
- Slide one hand partway into the sleeve on the same side
- Slide your other hand partway into the other empty sleeve
- Leaving your hands in the sleeves, slowly start to stand up
- Raise your arms, with the coat, slowly in front of you
- “Flip” the coat over your head
- Slide your hands the rest of the way through the sleeves
Which chaining method is the most effective?
The chaining method that a therapist or parent might use will determine the child’s learning level, the complexity of the task and what the task analysis revealed as the preferred method.
Backward chaining has advantages for teaching individuals with difficulties learning complex behavior, as it allows them to earn natural reinforcement at the end of the chain. This method is particularly useful for those with severe delays, as they can complete the last step and immediately see the outcome of the chain without needing additional prompts.
Forward chaining has both advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that it provides additional practice for responses at the beginning of the chain. However, a disadvantage is that it necessitates the use of arbitrary reinforcers to teach earlier responses. Additionally, earlier responses are put on extinction as chaining progresses, which means that simply placing soap on a dirty fork is no longer reinforced.
Total task chaining has advantages and disadvantages. It allows all responses to be practiced at once. However, reinforcement is delayed until the entire sequence is practiced, making teaching the response chain harder. The best approach depends on the child’s needs and preferences and the intervention goals. Therapists can expose clients to different chaining procedures to determine their preferred teaching method. No one-size-fits-all recommendation can be made.
Research has shown that behavior chains are effective learning procedures for children with autism. These procedures have been used to teach vocational tasks and daily living activities. Further studies have explored the use of behavior chains in activity schedules.