Backward Chaining Can Simplify Learning

Backward chaining is a technique for teaching useful skills to your child with autism. It comes in handy when multi-step tasks are too difficult to master all at once.

If you haven’t already, you may wish to read the page on forward chaining. You don’t need to read about forward chaining to understand this technique. But it’s a good idea to know both.

That way, if one method doesn’t work very well, you can try the other.

What is Backward Chaining?

With forward chaining you start with teaching your child the first step of the task. Then you teach the second step, and then the third step, and so on until she has mastered that task.

Backward chaining is the reverse of forward chaining.

General Procedure for Backward Chaining

  1. Complete all the steps in the procedure except for the last one.
  2. Teach the last step. Use appropriate and/or necessary prompts.
  3. Repeat numbers 1 and 2 until she has mastered the last step in the procedure.
  4. Complete all but the last two steps of the task.
  5. Teach the second-to-last step in the task. Use prompts as needed.
  6. Allow your child to complete the last step on her own.
  7. Repeat 4, 5, and 6 until she has mastered the second-to-last step of the procedure.
  8. Continue in this manner until she has mastered all the steps of the task.

Here's an Example...

In my article about forward chaining, I gave you an example of how you could separate into steps the task of brushing teeth.

Here I’ve outlined how I would break down the task of doing the laundry.

  1. Separate light and dark clothes.
  2. Pick out which set of clothes you want to wash.
  3. Add correct amount of soap to washer.
  4. Place clothes in washer.
  5. Turn on washer to correct settings, including water level and wash setting.
  6. Wait for cycle to finish.
  7. Place clothes in dryer.
  8. Turn on dryer at correct setting(s).
  9. Wait for cycle to finish.
  10. Check clothes to make sure they are dry.
  11. Remove clothes.
  12. Fold clothes.
  13. Put clothes away.

If you are teaching your child to do the laundry using this technique, you would start with the last step--putting the clothes away. Teach him this step until he has mastered it. All during the time you are teaching him this step, you are of course doing the rest of the entire task for him.

Once he has mastered the last step, you then do the entire task until you come to the second-to-last step, folding the clothes. You teach him this step, and then allow him to do the last step on his own. Repeat this procedure until he has mastered the second-to-last step.

You continue in this way until he learns the entire procedure.

Also keep in mind that, if you need to, you can break one or more of the steps into individual steps. For instance, if he is learning to fold the clothes, you can teach that task using the forward or backward chaining technique by breaking that task into steps if your child needs it.

Another Technique for your "Toolbox"

Red Toolbox

So that’s it! This technique can simplify the whole process for your child.

One big advantage to this technique is that, right away, the child has the great feeling of successfully completing a task before he’s mastered the entire procedure. This can give him a boost of confidence that can help to motivate him to continue his efforts.

Now you can tuck this into your “toolbox” of ideas, and pull it out when you think this might be just what he needs to master the skill that you are teaching him.

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