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Forward Chain Approach

Forward Chaining An Approach for Individuals with Autism and other delays to attain self-help skills. Caregiver Support. Positivism. Independent Skills.

Forward Chain Approach

The Forward Chain Approach was taught to me for my child that the same clinic (teaching me) had taken off the Autism Spectrum.  (Insert lots of confused looks and head scratches).

The clinic took her off the spectrum, but told me to sign up for this class called “Self-Help Skills for People with Autism.”  I signed up because I needed help (duh!).   Every ten week class focused on children with Autism.

The fact they took her diagnosis away is neither here nor there.  The approach I learned called Forward Chaining did help immensely.

This post is aimed at making you aware of the Forward Chain Approach.  In this quick introduction, you will learn the nuts and bolts of this, find where you can learn more about, and hopefully feel a sense of possibility when you are finished reading.

Forward Chain Resources

Here is a video that shows Forward Chaining with Hand Washing:  Search You Tube for this approach if you are interested, it looks like there are a plethora of videos to communicate how to do this approach.

Another resource is: Self-Help Skills for People with Autism: A Systematic Teaching Approach (Topics in Autism)
Amazon Affiliate Link: Self Help Skills for People With Autism. Book that explains the Forward Chaining Approach. Caregiver Support. Disability. Special Needs Help. Children that need extra support.

This is the exact book they took us through in the class.  It breaks down skills an easier manner for those with Autism or other disabilities.

If you know of other resources with Forward Chaining, please let us know in the comments below.  We would love to learn more from YOU!

Brief Explanation

  1.  Instruct the child to begin the target skill.  Place your hands on the child’s hands, guiding them through the steps. (Use cues such as words and/or pictures).
  2. Instruct the child to begin the skill as in Step 1, but pause and give the child a chance to do the first step.  If the child responds, praise him/her emphatically.  If the child does not respond, or responds incorrectly, guide him/her physically again.  Gradually diminish pressure.  Fade your role.  Once the first step is complete, put your hands on the child’s to complete the remaining steps.
  3. Follow instructions above and remove support for the first two steps.  Praise child after completion of steps 1 & 2.  Deliver a “Super Reward,” afer the completion of Step Two.
  4. Keep doing these steps until the whole multi-step task is completed.
  5. Generalize the phase and have it be a common practice, independent skill.

Ideas of Tasks for This Approach

For the Forward Chain Approach, you want to try this with multi-step tasks.  Ideas for this are all self-care: washing hands, bathing, tying shoes, brushing teeth, putting on clothes, etc.

What are your ideas of how you want to implement this?  Please share in the comments below.

This is how I taught the youngest to brush her teeth.  She needs help still, but it isn’t nearly as dramatic as when we started.

Before attempting this method, my youngest would gag and cry as soon as we said it was time to brush teeth.  After doing this approach, she still needs help brushing all the teeth, but the protest/meltdown is not there.  Life is more peaceful, which is a blessing!

Few Things to ConsiderStuff to think about before starting Forward Chaining Approach

There are lots of decisions to make when implementing the Forward Chain Approach.  First choose which multi-step task you want to work on.  I suggest starting VERY easy to build confidence in both your child and you.

Identify high risk times where the method is less likely to work.  At our house, I listed during phone calls, when other children are crying, during mealtime prep and clean up.

During high risk times is NOT when you want to implement this approach.  Find times where you can focus only on the multi-step task.  When working on this approach, make sure your attention is NOT divided.

List any advanced preparations that need done.  For instance I made Pecs with Boardmaker of the steps for teeth brushing.  I had this all ready BEFORE attempting the approach.

List awards you will use for appropriate behavior.  My favorite reward is the smile with thumb’s up because it’s my favorite word: “FREE!”  Other “Go To’s” for me are hugs, high fives, and piggy back rides.

List consequences for misbehavior.  Our big consequence now, is losing devices.  We also do “Time Out.”

Keep notes of how things go.  Make goals for next time too.

Forward Chaining: get all the supplies ready before starting. It will be so much easier.


The thing I liked best about this book is there is a whole section on Self-Help Skills Inventory.  This gives a blue print of skills that each child should have mastered.  It helped me see what I needed to work on with my then, five-year old daughter.

I hope this post leaves you empowered.  Watch progress happen before your eyes.  If you aren’t comfortable working on these skills, possibly find a babysitter, therapist, teacher, or aid that will support you doing this.  It definitely takes a village to raise our kids.

Thanks for stopping by today.  Please come again soon!  Blessings to you and yours today and always,


PS Please join our ever-growing Facebook Group.  We have fun and encourage each other!  For more ideas of independent skills, see this post: Skills for Independence, which contains printable charts for tracking skills.


I live in Columbus, Ohio USA, grown up here all my life. I love yoga, walking, riding bike, reading, bargain shopping, serving at church. Usually though, I'm napping in a doctor's office waiting area with one or two of the Fantastic Four Children. My passion is helping other families with extra health, behavioral, and learning issues like mine. Let's enjoy life... TOGETHER. It's more fun that way =)!

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