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Backward Chaining In ABA Therapy: Examples

Backward chaining requires the training parent, team, or another individual to complete all the steps of the chain except for the final skill.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
January 29, 2024
min read

What is backward chaining in ABA therapy?

Backward chaining requires the training parent, team, or another individual to complete all the steps of the chain except for the final skill.

Backward chaining has worked well with people who have developmental disabilities to learn how to complete many complex sequences of behaviors.

When people have a disability, like autism, it is important that they feel comfortable with the people working with them because they often have trust issues, which can impede the way they are taught.

When looking at backward chaining, it is taught so that a sequence of behaviors is done in reverse order, which means the one using the method will start with the final step in the behavioral sequence they are working on.

To date, it is unclear what type of chaining process is the most effective when balanced against each other.

However, with backward chaining, its main advantage is that it always uses a terminal reinforcer whenever the individual completes each step in the backward chaining process.

It uses the same approach as forward chaining, but the approach is applied in reverse order.

ABA therapists approach backward chaining in different ways.

Some therapists will go through each step of the behavior sequence with the individual, but once they reach the final step, they will begin teaching that step in depth.

How does backward chaining work?

One thing that many people new to dealing with people with autism have issues understanding, is many of these individuals take language literally.

This means that if they are working with a behavior sequence that has vague or implied steps to be completed, the individual might have issues following through the sequence successfully.

When working with backward chaining, it is important that the ABA therapist really lays out the individual steps of the process to the skill they are working on because if they skip any step in the process, it could dismantle the entire task analysis that is used to help support backward chaining.

Therefore, it is important to remember that there also needs to be a certain level of trust between the ABA therapist or the adult doing the backward chaining and the individual with autism to make sure that it will be as effective, as possible.

When dealing with individuals who have autism, it can be hard to get them to follow instructions if they are not comfortable or trust the person that is directing them.

Since this is usually the case, if an ABA therapist is thinking about using backward chaining, they will need to spend time with the individual prior to starting the process. This will help to increase the chances that backward chaining will work.

What is an example of backward chaining?

When trying to find an example of backward chaining, you have to remember that backward chaining can be used with most skills and tasks that have a sequence to complete them.

To keep this simple, we will use the skill of making a bed as our skill example. When teaching this skill, the ABA therapist will make a task analysis on this skill to figure out the best way to break down the steps of making a bed into the smallest steps possible, which will make it easier for the individual they are working with to make sense of the process, and it will make it easier to teach them.

The therapist will then work through the entire process of making the bed with the individual going through each step with them.

They will do this until they reach the final step in the process. If the last step in the process is to put the pillows on top of the bed, the therapist will prompt the individual to complete this step on their own.

Once they have completed the final step in the process alone and correctly, they will be given a reward for completing that final step on their own.

After the therapist is satisfied with the individual's success, they will start the process of making the bed all over again.This time, the ABA therapist will assist the individual through the entire process, once again, but then, they will stop assisting at the step before the final step and have the individual complete the last two steps entirely on their own.

Once they have been successful in completing these two steps, they will receive a reward for their efforts.

Then, the therapist will continue the same process consistently adding a single step to the sequence working chronologically backward.

By the end of this process, the individual should be able to successfully make their bed consistently even with being given the initial command of "make the bed".

Differences Between How Backward Chaining and Forward Chaining Works

Forward chaining and backward chaining both work in similar manners, but it is important to remember that one might work better with one individual but the other might work better with another. Therefore, the ABA therapist will have to access the individual to figure out which process will work better for their benefit.

The biggest difference between these two processes is that one starts training from step one forward, and backward chaining works through the entire process and then backward from the last step mastering each step from the finish to the start of the process.

Both of these processes provide the individual with a reward at each stage of mastery, and this is important to positively reinforce what the individual has learned.

Forward chaining doesn't require the individual to immediately work through every step of the skill they are trying to learn.However, backward chaining works differently.

The therapist will work through each step of the process with the individual, and they will continue to do so until they reach the final step, and then they will allow the individual to complete the last step on their own for reward. Then, they will do the same thing over and over again working their way up through all of the tasks until the individual does the entire process on their own.


  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/backward-chaining
  2. https://www.unl.edu/asdnetwork/virtual-strategies/chaining
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backward_chaining_(applied_behavior_analysis)
  4. https://www.adinaaba.com/post/backward-chaining-in-aba
steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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