Forward chaining is a term to describe a technique that is used to teach a child with autism some basic task analysis like getting dressed, eating a meal, brushing teeth, or combing their hair.
A teaching technique in which the learner is prompted/taught the first step in a series of steps with the therapist/parent performing the steps after the step targeted for learning. In forward chaining, the individual learns the logical sequence of a task from beginning to end. Forward chaining is recommended if the child can successfully complete more steps at the start of the behavior chain. Forward chaining has the advantage of using behavior momentum, as the 1st step is often the simplest, easiest step. Once the learner is able to perform the first step, the learner is then taught the first and second steps. This process continues until the learner is able to perform all the required steps to complete the task. This is the opposite of backward chaining.
It would be best to create a task analysis to make sure you have covered all the necessary steps. It is basically the step-by-step directions to completing the skill. By breaking it down into smaller steps and systematically introducing each step, the student is able to feel successful and gets a lot of practice opportunities before being asked to complete the whole task.
Steps for some basic task analysis using forward chaining
Putting a Coat On:
- Pick up the coat by the collar (the inside of the coat should be facing you).
- Place your right arm in the right sleeve hole.
- Push your arm through until you can see your hand at the other end.
- Reach behind with your left hand.
- Place your arm in the left sleeve hole.
- Move your arm through until you see your hand at the other end.
- Pull the coat together in the front.
- Zip the coat.
- Turn on the right faucet handle to turn on the water.
- Wet hands.
- Dispense soap by pressing the button on the dispenser.
- Rub hands in a circle to a count of 5.
- Rub between the fingers to a count of 5.
- Turn off water.
- Take a paper towel.
- Dry hands with the paper towel to a count of 5.
- Throw the paper towel away in the trash can.
The farther along your child get in a chain, the more likely they are to accidentally rearrange the steps. This will take patience. Your child may be able to complete the steps in the correct order one day but will mix them up the next. If this is happening consistently, it’s a sign that you need to take a step back and decrease the number of steps the child is doing independently until they are more consistently achieving mastery again.
See the counterpart to forward chaining: Backward Chaining