Four Steps in Writing a Task Analysis for Students With Autism and Other Disabilities

What is a Task Analysis?

A task analysis is a way to examine carefully exactly how a person performs a certain activity, usually a life skill. It breaks down the activity into a series of tasks, which are observable actions or behaviors.

For example, the activity of brushing teeth includes the tasks of entering the bathroom, obtaining a toothbrush, turning on the water, putting the toothbrush under the water, obtaining the toothpaste, opening the toothpaste, squeezing the toothpaste onto the brush, closing the toothpaste, brushing teeth effectively (which could include several subtasks), washing off the toothbrush, and putting the toothbrush and toothpaste away.

Although most people do these tasks without even thinking about them, many students with special needs have to go through specific instruction to make sure that they are able to practice each task in the correct sequence.

In some more rigorous examples of task analysis, each large task is broken into subtasks, each subtask is broken into elements, and each element is broken into steps. This detailed type of task analysis is useful in helping people with autism or other disabilities to complete activities such as dressing themselves, washing their hands, or making their beds.

Task analysis enables a teacher or parent to break these activities down into smaller, more manageable, pieces. The four main steps in writing a task analysis are knowing your audience, breaking it down, breaking it down further, and considering variables.

Knowing Your Audience

In order to write an effective task analysis, you'll need to consider who will be benefiting from it. For example, a child who can only use one hand well will need to use different tasks than a child who can use both hands. Similarly, a child who struggles with hand-eye coordination or one who is afraid of water will need a task analysis focused on their needs in order to learn how to wash their own hands.

Break It Down

Once you know who your audience is, you'll need to break down the activity into various tasks. This may take you only a few minutes, since it probably seems obvious to you that the tasks included in washing your hands are

  1. Turn on the water.
  2. Wet your hands.
  3. Add soap.
  4. Rub the soap around.
  5. Rinse your hands.
  6. Dry your hands.

Although these are the main tasks involved, they do not constitute a strong task analysis. In order to strengthen it, you'll need to break the steps down further.

Break It Down Further

Take a look at each of your tasks. Are any of them made up of subtasks that you may not have considered? For example, take a look at the task "Add soap." For someone who does not know how to do this, you will need to teach them how to put their hand under the soap dispenser, press on it with their other hand, make sure not to put on too much, and get their hands back over the sink without spilling the soap out. All of these are important tasks that may need to be taught explicitly.

Consider Variables

At this point, of course, you'll need to consider variables that may crop up. For example, even if a person knows how to add liquid soap during this process, what happens when they use a bathroom that has only bar soap? And what happens at a rest stop when the bathrooms have automatic faucets? Adding these variables in to your task analysis will ensure that you are explicitly teaching the process most effectively.

These steps in writing a task analysis should help you focus on the small pieces of information that you may likely overlook during the writing process.


What is a task analysis?

This post is part of the series: Strategies for Teaching Autistic Students

The articles in this series discussion strategies for teaching autistic students, including how to write a task analysis.
  1. Often Overlooked Steps in Writing a Task Analysis