What is “Chaining” in ABA?

Applied Behavior Analysis is a psychological treatment method used to treat autism and other conditions, and chaining is one component of the treatment process. Although ABA is used to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and other disorders, autism is the area where it utilized most frequently. There is a dramatic rise in the number of cases of autism reported. Whether this is due to changes in the criteria for diagnosis or whether there is an environmental cause for more cases, no one argues that more children are being diagnosed with autism.

Related resource: Top 20 Online Applied Behavior Analysis Bachelor’s Degree and BCaBA Coursework Programs

Applied Behavioral Analysis

Applied Behavioral Analysis is a psychological treatment method that focuses on isolating a behavior, noting the environment where the behavior occurs (and the “triggers” for it) and then manipulating that environment to change the behaviors. ABA therapists use many methods to achieve positive changes including self-awareness and control education. For autistic children, however, self-awareness may not be immediately attainable. Education, and especially chaining, seems to be a better alternative.

Define Chaining

Chains, in this context, are commonly defined as sequences of individual behaviors that when linked together form a terminal behavior. In simple language, they are small steps that must be taken sequentially to complete a task. For instance, in learning to brush his teeth, a child must take the toothpaste from the cabinet, open the lid, squeeze it onto his brush and so forth.

Why Used With Autism

The American Psychological Association says that autism is the most “severe developmental disorder.” It usually is diagnosed first in children by the time they are three years old. At this time, they are learning many social tasks, things that are difficult for people with autism. Autistic children may have few interests and be obsessive about the ones they do have. They may have strange eating or sleeping behaviors and they may act out. Therapists use ABA, including chaining, to teach these rudimentary behaviors.

How it is Used

Chains can be compared to recipes, according to some practitioners. People who would otherwise have no concept of baking bread use recipes to show them the process step-by-step. In the same way, children learn to complete basic tasks. There are two types of chaining: forward chaining and backward chaining. In forward chaining, the behavior is taught in the steps as they naturally occur. In the example of tooth-brushing, the first step might be to take the toothbrush from its holder. The next step would be to take the toothpaste from the cabinet. Altogether, there might be fifteen or more simple steps to complete a task. When a child completes a step successfully three times, that progress is reinforced.
Backward chaining is similar, except that the therapist first models behavior backward, completing all steps but the first. Then, the child is asked to complete the last step, which might be to put his toothbrush away. Next, the child is asked to complete the final step plus the next-to-last step. He is rewarded at each completion, but the greatest reward occurs when he completes the final step, which might be to put his brush back into the toothbrush holder instead of throwing it onto the floor.
It can be frustrating for parents, therapists and the children themselves to build positive behaviors into the lives of autistic children. Chaining is one tool that can be used to be successful in the quest.