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Task Analysis for Behavior Modification

written by: Sharon Dominica • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

Want to know more about how you can use task analysis for behavior motivation? Here are tips, techniques and ideas that you can use to teach complex tasks to students with special needs.

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    What is Task Analysis?

    Task analysis is the process of breaking down a task into its smallest elements. It is a useful technique to teach any type of task or activity to a person with autism, ADHD, mental retardation or other intellectual difficulties.

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    What is Behavior Modification?

    Behavior modification is the process of molding the behavior of a person by teaching and increasing the use of skilled behaviors and decreasing the occurrence of problem behaviors. Behavior modification is done with the help of a number of behavioral techniques. Task analysis is one of the techniques that is used along with other techniques for behavior modification.

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    Using Task Analysis for Behavior Motivation and Modification

    Problem behaviors, frustration, tantrums and even depression can be symptoms of an inability to perform a task independently. When a person with special needs is not able to cope with the task demands, it can show in many different ways. These include indifference, violence, lethargy, disinterest or refusal to do tasks. Teaching the task can help reduce all these behaviors and encourage independence.

    Task analysis is an important technique that is used to teach tasks that have many steps. As a person with special needs may not be able to learn the whole task at once, the task is taught step by step, and the person is given an opportunity to master one step at a time. Usually, task analysis is used in combination with other behavior modification techniques to help the person with special needs to learn the task.

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    Other Techniques Used with Task Analysis

    Chaining: Chaining is the process of teaching one step at a time, and chaining it to the previously learned step. The person with special needs does the steps that he knows, and the teacher completes the activity for him. There are two types of chaining: forward and backward. In forward chaining, the person is taught the first step first. Once he learns it, the person does the first step and the teacher completes the task for him. Then he learns the second step, then the third and so on. In backward chaining, the opposite happens and the person is taught the last step first.

    Prompting: Prompting is a method of providing a clue to the person about the next step to be done. Prompting can be verbal or physical. Verbal prompting usually consists of giving a directive command about the next step, and physical prompting consists of guiding the hand or body to do the next step. Most-to-least intrusive prompting is usually followed, which means that the teacher starts with maximal support, such as “apply the toothpaste on the brush," and ends with minimal prompting, such as “did you forget something?" Similarly for physical prompts, prompting would start with guiding the hand, and end with a touch on the shoulder.

    Rewards and Reinforcements: Rewards and reinforcements help a person with special needs to stay motivated to do the task. Rewards can be edible rewards, other tangible rewards or even task rewards. Rewards can be given at every step, or at the end of completing the task. A special reward can be given when the person can complete the whole task independently. Rewards must be tailored according to the interests of the person.

    Timers and Charts: Timers and charts can be used to assist the person to learn a new task through task analysis. A chart illustrating the various steps can help the person to remember the steps and perform them independently. In some cases, the chart can have columns where they can be awarded a star for completing a step independently. Timers can be used to teach a person with special needs to complete a task within a specified time.

    Modifying the Task, Materials or Environment: In many cases, a person with special needs may get frustrated because the task may be too difficult for them, even after breaking it down into small steps. In these cases, the teacher may need to modify the environment, task or materials. For example, to teach shoe lacing, the teacher can teach using a lacing board and a thick firm lace. To teach the task of folding, the teacher can start by teaching the student to fold a pillow cover. In some cases, eliminating distractions in the environment, and providing a comfortable space to work may increase the rate of success.

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    Evaluation of Task Performance Through Task Analysis for Behavior Modification

    Thus, task analysis is an effective technique. However, it works best if the teacher can evaluate the progress of the student in learning the task. Here is a sample evaluation form that can be used when we use task analysis for behavior motivation. In the columns, you can mark if the student has done each step independently, or with prompts. You can check progress every day or week using this form. This form will also help to find out if the student is struggling with a particular step. Similarly, make your own forms for the tasks you are teaching. Break up any task into its components and add similar columns. You can modify it to include more information if required.

    To summarize, the process of using task analysis for behavior motivation and modification is this:

    1. Specify the behavior/task to be taught.
    2. Break down the task into its components.
    3. Determine the level of the client.
    4. Structure the environment.
    5. Establish motivation with rewards.
    6. Teach the person one task at a time.
    7. Use prompts and feedback to shape behavior.
    8. Fade prompts and reinforcements.
    9. Evaluate and record the progress using an evaluation form (Download evaluation form).
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    Autism Outreach. (n.d.). Task Analysis. Retrieved 2010, from Autism Outreach:

    Ellsworth, J. (2001). Behaviorism: A Dominant Paradigm. Retrieved 2010, from Classroom Management of Exceptional Children:

    Intermountain Healthcare, Idaho. (n.d.). Task Analysis Worksheet. Retrieved 2010, from Wellness Proposals:

    Jerome, J., Frantino, E.P., and Sturmey, P. (2007). The Effects of Errorless Learning and Backward Chaining on the Acquisition of Internet Skills in Adults With Developmental Disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, pp. 185-189

    Kaplan, M. (1999). Motor Skill Acquisition Frame of Reference. In Kramer, P. and Hinojosa, J. (Eds), Frames of Reference of Pediatric Occupational Therapy (pp. 401-427). Union: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.