Backward Chaining: A Cure for Task-Frustration

“Task-frustration” occurs when a child attempts to complete a particular task (e.g., tying shoe laces, riding a bicycle, doing a math assignment, playing a board game, etc.), but fumbles along unsuccessfully. 
As a result, he or she has a tantrum – or a meltdown! If you are a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, you have no doubt witnessed your child being overly-frustrated on numerous occasions over seemingly trivial incidents. Well, help has arrived! Read on…

“Backward chaining” can have different definitions for different fields, but when teaching life skills to young people with High-Functioning Autism (HFA), it refers to breaking down the steps of a task and teaching them in reverse order. This gives the youngster an experience of accomplishment and completion with every attempt.

Instead of the youngster starting at the beginning and getting lost somewhere through the process (with the parent having to complete the task), the parent does all but the last step and lets the youngster complete the work. Then the parent backs-off, doing less and less while the youngster does more and more, always finishing with the youngster performing the final step.

Backward chaining allows the HFA youngster to experience instant success. As more steps are added, he completes the newly taught step immediately, followed by the steps he has already mastered. This will minimize frustration and anxiety – and provide the youngster with a sense of achievement. This feeling of success will often increase his confidence and keep him motivated to learn and complete the entire sequence of steps.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Systematic use of backward chaining is extremely helpful because it:
  • Helps the child to successfully complete a task early in the progression
  • Facilitates transfer of procedural information to long-term memory
  • Keeps instructional input to a minimum, thus reducing demands on the child’s short-term or working memory
  • Keeps the child involved and challenged


How to Use Backward Chaining—

First, be sure to define the target behavior. To teach your child to perform the links in a chain, you need to know exactly what those links are.  Sometimes the links are very obvious (e.g., teaching the alphabet). Other times, links are not so obvious.  Thus, perform the target behavior yourself and take note of all the steps involved.

Second, be sure that the steps in the chain are reinforced in sequence (i.e., reinforce them as they happen).  For example, once your youngster has mastered step 5 of a particular task, and you begin to teach step 4, you will be reinforcing steps 4 and 5.  You will either be reinforcing at the end of the chain, or at the end of as much of the chain as your youngster has learned.  What your child learns in a chain is not just the number of steps – she also learns to perform those steps in the correct order. 

Third, keep track of the results.  Should the task or a particular step be taught and reinforced a few more times? Is it time to move on to the next step in the task?  Has a particular step been mastered? These are decisions that must be made during the chaining process, and they can be made correctly only if you cautiously monitor the results you are getting.

Low-Frustration Tolerance in Children with HFA 

Examples of Backward Chaining—

Example #1: To teach your HFA youngster how to change the sheets and pillow cases on her bed, you can break down the steps as follows:
  1. Remove the pillow cases
  2. Remove the pillows
  3. Remove the blanket(s)
  4. Remove the top sheet
  5. Remove the fitted sheet
  6. Put on a clean fitted sheet
  7. Put on a clean top sheet
  8. Replace the blanket(s)
  9. Put on clean pillow cases
  10. Replace the pillows

To start, you could do steps 1 through 8, and then let your youngster put the clean pillow cases on the pillows, and put the pillows on the bed. When that can be done consistently, you could do steps 1 through 7, and then let your youngster pull up the blanket(s), put cases on the pillows, and put the pillows on the bed. When she becomes comfortable with each step, the step before it is introduced, always with the goal of having her finish the task successfully.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism 

Example #2: To teach your HFA youngster how to tie his shoe laces, you can break down the steps as follows: 
  1. Take a lace in each hand, crossing the laces into an "X"
  2. Insert one lace through the bottom of the "X" and pull both laces tight
  3. Make a small loop with one of the laces
  4. Hold the loop with the thumb and index finger of one hand
  5. Take the other lace and swoop it around the loop
  6. Move the thumb and index fingers enough so that the swooped lace can be seen through the little hole
  7. Identify the swooped lace and grab hold it
  8. Pull the swooped lace and the loop at the same time in opposite directions, pulling slowly but firmly to tighten the laces into a bow

In this example, you will perform steps 1 through 7, allowing your child to tighten the laces into a bow at the end of the task. Once your child can perform this last step, have him work on both steps 7 and 8 …then steps 6, 7 and 8 …and so on.

Example #3: Educators can also make use of backward chaining. For example, in teaching a complex word (e.g., “hypothesis”), the educator could model the last part of the word (“sis), then the middle (“the”), and finally the first part of the word (“hypo”), pausing to allow the child to repeat the word parts.

Using the backward chaining technique is ideal for promoting skills development in HFA children, because starting out with the easier steps that occur at the end of a task will encourage them to persist and learn the harder “first steps” later. So, the next time you are struggling to teach your youngster a basic self-help skill, consider backward chaining. It may be just what your child needs to build confidence and lead him or her to success.

More articles for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…


Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...


Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…


Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…


Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...


Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...
A child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can have difficulty in school because, since he fits in so well, many adults may miss the fact that he has a diagnosis. When these children display symptoms of their disorder, they may be seen as defiant or disruptive.

Click here for the full article...

Raising Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Parents' Grief and Guilt

Some parents grieve for the loss of the youngster they   imagined  they had. Moms and dads have their own particular way of dealing with the...