Teaching Self-Help Skills

August 14, 2015 5:56 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

BCOTB has developed a curricula for teaching self-help skills, such as brushing one’s teeth, flossing, getting dressed, and tying shoes. These skills can often be difficult to teach because they involve many steps that each need to be completed accurately to support the successful completion of the task. As recommended by behavioral research, BCOTB breaks these tasks down into task analyses, which involve “breaking a complex skill into smaller, teachable units, the product of which is a series of sequentially ordered steps or tasks”. This blog will introduce you to task analyses, teach you how to construct a basic task analysis, and help you determine how to best prompt accurate responses.

Follow these steps to prepare for the task analysis:

  1. Be clear about the skill you are trying to teach.
    • Are you teaching brushing teeth or holding a toothbrush?
    • Is your goal for your child to independently make a bowl of cereal or eat with a spoon?
  2. Outline all the steps involved in completing the skill.
    • You can observe someone complete the task.
    • You can talk with an expert about the steps involved in the task.
    • You can perform the task yourself.
Task Steps
Cooks a bag of popcorn 1. Opens plastic wrapper
2. Throws wrapper away
3. Opens microwave door
4. Puts popcorn bag in microwave
5. Closes microwave door
6. Presses popcorn button
7. Opens door when buzzer sounds
8. Removes popcorn

 

  1. See how many steps your child can already do independently.
    • You may need to break each step down even further if your child does not already perform many of the steps or is slow to learn new tasks. For example:

 

Task Steps Modified Steps
Cooks a bag of popcorn    
   
3. Opens microwave door 3. Grasps door handle
4. Puts popcorn bag in microwave 4. Pulls door open
5. Closes microwave door 5. Labels the top of the popcorn bag (side up for cooking)
  6. Places the bag flat on the cooking surface with cooking side up
  7. Grasps the door handle
  8. Closes the door

 

  1. Decide whether you want to teach all the steps at once or if you want to teach one at a time.
    • If your child does not perform many of the steps already or is slow to master new skills, you may want to teach one skill at a time with a process known as either forward or backward chaining (See below for an explanation.).
    • If your child can perform many of the skills or if the skill steps are short and not numerous, you may want to teach all the steps at once in a process call total task chaining (See below for an explanation.)

 

Choose your task analysis:

  • Forward Chaining
    • In this approach, you teach the first step in your chain first and either end the task after the child completes the first step or manually guide the child through the remaining steps. Be sure to provide praise and a reinforcer after the child completes his/her targeted step(s). After the child learns the first step, you would then teach the second step, then the third, et cetera. This method is best to use when your child can complete some but not all the steps necessary to be proficient in the self-help skill.

 

Task Steps
Cooks a bag of popcorn 1. Opens plastic wrapper (teach 1st)
2. Throws wrapper away (teach 2nd)
3. Opens microwave door (teach 3rd)
4. Puts popcorn bag in microwave
5. Closes microwave door
6. Presses popcorn button
7. Opens door when buzzer sounds
8. Removes popcorn

 

  • Backward Chaining
    • In this approach, you teach the last step in your chain first and either manually guide the child through the steps leading up to the final step or perform the steps yourself. After the child learns the last step, you would teach the next to last step and then then step before that one, et cetera. Be sure to provide praise and a reinforcer when the child completes the targeted step (i.e., the chain is complete). This method is best to use when your child does not perform any steps in the self-help skill or is slow to learn new tasks.

 

 

Task Steps
Cooks a bag of popcorn 1. Removes popcorn
2. Opens door when buzzer sounds
3. Presses popcorn button
4. Closes microwave door
5. Puts popcorn bag in microwave
6. Opens microwave door
7. Throws wrapper away
8. Opens plastic wrapper

 

  • Total Task
    • In this approach, you will teach each step each time you work on the desired skill. Be sure to provide praise and a reinforcer when the child completes the chain of responses (It may be necessary to praise and reinforce throughout the chain). This method is best to use when your child performs many of the skill steps already, is quick to learn new tasks, and when the steps are not numerous.

 

Task Steps
Cooks a bag of popcorn 1. Opens plastic wrapper
2. Throws wrapper away
3. Opens microwave door
4. Puts popcorn bag in microwave
5. Closes microwave door
6. Presses popcorn button
7. Opens door when buzzer sounds
8. Removes popcorn

Prompt correct responses:

  • Stay away from verbal prompts.
    • A verbal prompt is when we tell someone how to do something or when we speak/say something that somehow helps another person complete a task (e.g., you say “Now open the door and put the bag in.”).
    • A physical prompt is when we use our hands to guide another person to complete a task (e.g., using your hand to help your child grasp the door handle, using your hand to help your child pick up the popcorn bag and place it in the microwave).
    • When we talk someone through a task, we run the risk of creating a dependency on our verbal prompts. At BCOTB we favor physical prompts since a child is less likely to rely on our physical guidance.
  • Teach as errorlessly as possible.
    • We usually begin with the most intrusive physical prompt to prevent initial errors (e.g., taking someone’s hands and motoring them through a sequence of responses).
  • Fade your prompts.
    • You may initially need to guide your child through the steps in the task analysis by taking his/her hand and motoring him/her through. Over time and as you feel your child moving independently, you should fade this prompt from full physical contact to a partial physical contact to physical proximity with your child and finally to independent task completion (You may be able to skip some prompt levels).

 

If there are any self-help or daily living skills you would like for your child to learn, BCOTB can help create a task analysis that is individualized for your child. 

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Reference

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

 

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