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Forward Chaining In ABA Therapy: Definition & Examples

Forward chaining is one of two types of chaining used in ABA therapy to teach multi-step or complicated skills to children with developmental disorders such as autism.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 15, 2023
min read

What is forward chaining in ABA therapy?

Forward chaining is one of two types of chaining used in ABA therapy to teach multi-step or complicated skills to children with developmental disorders such as autism. In forward chaining, children are rewarded when they complete the first small part and integrate it. This chaining method works for tasks such as making a sandwich, putting on clothes, brushing teeth, and more.

In ABA therapy, there are two common forms of chaining that ABA therapists use to help clients who have autism and other developmental disorders with learning complex and multi-step skills.

When starting forward changing, an ABA therapist will utilize task analysis to break down the desired task into small steps that are easier to grasp for their clients.

Then, the therapist will provide the child with a small reward after each step has been completed, and they will continue to add on steps until the child is capable of performing the tasks.

Some of the skills that an ABA therapist might use forward chaining to teach include but are not limited to brushing their teach, putting on a shirt, or making a sandwich. Now, let's go a little further in-depth on how forward chaining works and some examples of what the steps might look like.

How does forward chaining work?

Forward chaining in ABA therapy is when the therapist uses chaining to teach behavior in chronological or logical order. At each step in the chaining process, the desired behavior is reinforced and rewarded.

The reason each step in the chaining process is rewarded is to the child master each step and reinforce the training as they move through the chaining process allowing them to learn new skills as they grow.

Autism in children is often diagnosed around two years old, and it is often not seen until the child shows a lack of developmental growth. They could even start to digress into developmental skills they had previously mastered.

Examples of forward chaining

Forward chaining can be used in various developmental skills, and it is up to the ABA therapist on how many steps they wish to break the multi-step skill into. Here is what a forward chaining training example might look like.

Skill: Make a sandwich

Step 1: The therapist will give the command "Get plate". Then, they will monitor the student until they master getting a plate. Once the client has mastered this step, the therapist will reward them in some manner.

This could be anything from giving them verbal praise or a pat on the shoulder.

Step 2: The therapist will then chain together the next step in making a sandwich, by saying "get bread". Once the client can get the plate and bread, the therapist will reward them again in some manner and move on to the next step.

Step 3: The therapist will add the command "Put meat on bread". By this point, the client should understand that they should first get the plate, then the bread, and then place the meat on the bread. Now, we know that there are many variations to making a sandwich, but this is an example that is implied to show how forward chaining works in ABA therapy.

The process would continue to add small steps until the client was able to follow multiple steps to reach the end goal of making a sandwich.

This might seem like a simple thing, but people who suffer from autism, often have difficulties with following multiple steps to reach an end goal. This is where forward chaining comes in handy because it is designed to help the client to learn how to string certain steps together to reach a result.

Using forward chaining with task analysis

When working with children with autism, one thing that needs to be understood is that every child learns differently, and although a child might be able to complete some steps for a task successfully, they might have issues with other parts that cause the task to go wrong.

For instance, if a child is told to put their shirt on, they might remember they have to put their arm through a hole, but they might mix up the arm and head hole.

If you are ever in a rush, you can imagine that this might be frustrating for a parent, especially one who has not had a lot of experience with autism before having their child.

This is where forward chaining can benefit to help parents and teachers to feel less frustrated in these situations.

An ABA therapist might come in and if they want to work on putting a shirt on the skill, they would break the process down into smaller parts that will help the child to slowly increase their understanding about what they should do.

Forward training takes effort from all of the adults involved in the process of the skill being learned. In this case, it would usually involve the therapist and the parent. Here is what the basic process of forward training might look like on paper:

  • The therapist, teacher, or parent will break down the skill process into small steps. During this part, the child with autism may or may not be present. It is up to the adults. It could cause some confusion while they are trying to work out the smaller steps.
  • Once the steps are laid out, the child will be taught the first step in the process of design.
  • They will repeat the first step providing a reward to the child when they complete the first step until they feel satisfied that the child is retaining the information.
  • Next, the adult will add the next step of the skill process once the first step has been mastered.
  • Finally, they will add in the third step of the process in conjunction with the other two steps, making sure to have them in chronological order. They will continue this process until all the steps of the skill have been mastered in conjunction.


  1. https://www.elemy.com/studio/aba-terms/forward-chaining
  2. https://howtoaba.com/behavior-chain-in-aba/
steven zauderer

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

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