What is Task Analysis in the Context of Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy?

Learners—especially younger learners—with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disorders may have tremendous difficulty honing a new activity of daily living or adaptive skill. Because of this, practitioners of applied behavior analysis (ABA) often approach the process of learning a new skill as a sequence of much smaller skills.

This process, which is referred to task analysis (analyzing a task), involves breaking down the process of learning a new skill into smaller, manageable tasks instead of just one, complex task. When a complex task is viewed as simply a number of sequential, specific sub-tasks, ASD learners are able to remain focused and less anxious or frustrated which, in turn, allows for an easier path to successfully learning that task.

The Method and Objective of Task Analysis

Any number of ABA techniques, including discrete trial training, video modeling, prompting, and reinforcement can be implemented with task analysis. Regardless of what is being taught and how it is being taught, task analysis will always have the same goal: to break down a complex task into individual components that build upon one another until the task is achieved.

A complex skill in ABA is anything that involves multiple steps. For example, while picking up a toothbrush is just one step (referred to as a discrete skill), the task of brushing one’s teeth is comprised of multiple steps – often referred to as chained, discrete steps.

How is Analysis Implemented?

Task analysis is implemented in one of three ways, depending on the needs of the learner:

  • Forward chaining—moving throughout the sequence with the first step first
  • Backward chaining—moving throughout the sequence with the last step first
  • Total task teaching—moving throughout the sequence, with only those problematic steps broken down into simpler steps

ABA practitioners using task analysis must first (1) identify the skill to be learned; and (2) ensure that the learner has mastered all the discrete skills required to successfully complete the task. For example, if the child does not yet have the dexterity to hold a toothbrush properly, task analysis for teaching teeth brushing cannot yet begin.

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Breaking A Task Up Into Its Individual Components

Once the task (and the learner’s ability to accomplish the task’s components) has been identified, ABA practitioners consider a number of factors, including the learner’s temperament, the learner’s IED/IFSP, and the environment in which the task will be learned.

They then consider the steps needed to accomplish the task and create a list that includes all required steps:

  1. Locate all required materials (toothbrush, toothpaste, and cup)
  2. Remove cap from toothpaste
  3. Squeeze toothpaste onto brush
  4. Replace toothpaste cap
  5. Brush upper right quadrant
  6. Brush upper left quadrant
  7. Brush lower right quadrant
  8. Brush lower left quadrant
  9. Spit out toothpaste
  10. Fill cup with water
  11. Rinse out mouth
  12. Rinse off toothbrush
  13. Put away all materials

Because each component of the task builds off the previous components, ABA practitioners must ensure the ASD learner has properly completed a component before moving on.