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How can I help my child become more independent? Using a Task Analysis to Teach Socially Significant Skills

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As a parent with a child who has ASD, you may have experienced many moments of worry wondering whether your child will ever be able to brush their own teeth, make themselves a snack, tie their shoes, or do their own grocery shopping. Complex skills such as these, may not be something that comes naturally or easily to your child, but that does not necessarily mean they cannot be taught! 

A task analysis is a teaching strategy that, “involves breaking a complex skill into smaller, teachable units” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Paired with prompting strategies to minimize errors and reinforcement contingencies that motivate your child, tasks that you thought they would never do on their own can absolutely become a part of their repertoire of skills.

The key to a task analysis is the way the skill is broken down. A few factors to consider when determining the sequence of steps to teach are the age of your child, the level of independence that is appropriate, and their prior experience with the task (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). The next step is to break that skill down! I often recommend to parents to first do the task yourself and think about each step you are doing to complete it. Also consider alternatives for steps that you feel may be too difficult for your child to complete in the same way you do. For example, when teaching your child to wash their hands, provide bar soap as an alternative to a pump bottle if your child does not have the motor strength for using bottle soap. Another recommendation I often give parents is to see what your child can do first! When given the opportunity to complete the task themselves, you may be surprised at what they already know and it may guide the order you arrange the steps. 

The table below shows two different examples of a task analysis for washing hands that shows how you could break down the skill based on what is most appropriate for your child. 

 Shorter Sequence  Longer Sequence
  1. Turn on water 
  2. Get both hands wet
  3. Get one pump of soap
  4. Rub hands together for 10 seconds
  5. Rinse hands 
  6. Turn water off 
  7. Dry hands
  1. Turn on water 
  2. Get both hands wet
  3. Pick up the bar soap 
  4. Rub the bar between hands 
  5. Put the soap on the side of the sink 
  6. Rub hands together 
  7. Rub the top of one hand
  8. Rub the top of the other hand 
  9. Rinse the inside of both hands 
  10. Rinse the top of both hands 
  11. Turn off water 
  12. Pick up the towel 
  13. Rub the inside of both hands with the towel
  14. Rub the top of one hand with the towel
  15. Rub the top of the other hand with the towel 
  16. 16. Put the towel on the counter  

Once you have the skill broken down, teaching can begin! Teach one step at a time, again using prompting and reinforcement. There a few different ways you can go about teaching the steps (a post for another day), but don’t be shy about giving it a try! If you would like more information on the different teaching procedures or you have run into some difficulties teaching the task analysis you created, ask your child’s BCBA for guidance! Best of luck teachers!  

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