Sometimes your child doesn’t have a skill that his peers have. Recently we’ve had problems getting an (almost 4-year-old child) to remove his shirt. This is obviously a skill he should be able to do by now if he was developmentally normal but alas Autism has him behind others his age in many ways.
There could be plenty of skills that your child has yet to achieve too! Such as; washing their hands, putting on clothes or brushing their teeth, etc. But that doesn’t mean there is no hope. Applied Behavioral Analyses (ABA) therapists have a specific technique for teaching skills like this and it’s called chaining.
What is Chaining?
Well, we can break it down like this. Almost every skill has a series of steps attached. For example, when you’re learning how to make a salad, you don’t go from someone who’s never seen a salad bowl to a bowl full of salad. First you have to look up a recipe, and then set out your ingredients, cut them up, put them in a bowl and add dressing. This example had five different steps involved that we don’t even think about, but for a child learning a new skill those are all the steps they have to learn to get the result of a salad for dinner.
A therapist can’t show an Autistic child how to do something and expect that they’ve understood their complex language, have the motor skill available, remember every single step, then execute it perfectly. Because of this they use chaining.
Chaining starts by teaching a child how to do something either backwards or forwards (depending on what is easiest). Take the example washing hands, this can be placed into steps like so;
1. Pull the stool up to the sink
2. Find the soap
3. Turn on the tap
4. Get your hands wet
5. Apply the soap
6. Rub your hands together under the water
7. Rinse the soap
8. Put away the soap
9. Turn off the tap
10. Get down from the sink
When chaining forwards a therapist will prompt step 1, then re-enforce it until the child can perform this task perfectly three times. They then move on to the next step, and so on and so on, until the child can perform all ten steps without prompts.
When chaining backwards the therapist completes all nine steps for the child, then prompts the final step. When the child completes it on their own, they get positive re-enforcement. They then complete steps 1-8 and prompt 9, and so forth.
This technique is not only fun for the child, with lots of praise and very few errors, but it can teach a child how to perform almost any task successfully. This way they can lead a more independent life. Using this technique my son went from not even caring if he could take off his own shirt, to removing his own shit just by asking him to, within a week in an excited happy manner.