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Just BREAK IT DOWN—Another Way to Say Task Analysis When There Are Learning Differences

Updated: Apr 10

By Karen Kaplan

I was thinking, parents of children with intellectual disabilities are often bombarded with all kinds of intervention terms and may be overwhelmed just by their names: Behavior Intervention, Aphasia, Dystonia, Antecedent, Sensory Processing and Regulation, or even Task Analysis.

So, why is it that the professionals make it so hard? Perhaps our first thought should be how do we simplify for them. How can we be more sensitive to their position (worried, overwhelmed, exhausted, isolated, etc.)? How do we help them see these new ideas as something they may already be doing but need to do more consistently with patience and some additional tips?

Let’s take Task Analysis. Task analysis is the process whereby a multi-step behavior or skill, such as brushing teeth, is broken down into smaller steps that can be taught and reinforced. The task analysis is the step-by-step listing of the steps of the behavior.

We could say to a parent that there is a simple way to teach a child to complete tasks independently or with the least help. We just BREAK IT DOWN. Yup, we observe all the steps in a task, write them down to see just how many steps there are, and then teach.

Now, there are several ways this can be done, depending on the particular individual strengths and differences.

1. A parent could stand side by side and model the steps by asking their child to copy them (Modeling: 4 Steps Involved in Behavioral Modeling - Ifioque). The parent could be commenting on each step (turn on the water, pick up toothpaste, open, pick up a toothbrush, squeeze past on brush, put down toothpaste, brush, spit out, rinse the brush, etc.)

2. A parent could make a video of a sibling doing each step and play the video repeatedly so the individual can observe someone they look up to doing the task before they try it (Autism Video Modeling - 3 Tips To Take Action!).

3. A parent could create a social story about the task and read it before the task is to occur. (Home - Carol Gray - Social Stories).

4. A parent could take pictures of each step, print them out and place a visual schedule of the task where it occurs, such as the bathroom sink for brushing teeth, shower for showering, dressing in the bedroom, making lunch, on the refrigerator. (How To Use Picture Schedules With Kids With Autism? - Put Children First)

Sometimes there are just too many steps for the individual to be expected to complete without support. Well, then BREAK IT DOWN. Perhaps you see which steps they can do on their own, let those occur, and pick three that need more attention. Create one or more of the four ideas above to teach those steps.

Therapists or teachers may also say, you can use Backward Chaining, (Backward Chaining Can Simplify Learning, or Forward Chaining, (Forward Chaining -- Simplify Complex Tasks - This just means requiring your child to do the last step on their own first, after teaching. Then the last two steps. Then the last three steps etc. This is Backward Chaining. Or ask them to do the first step only, then the first two steps, and then the first three steps after you teach, on their own, and you help with the rest until they have mastered those first steps (Forward Chaining) and then add more. Yup, just BREAK IT DOWN for everyone.

I truly believe that when we have patience and choose meaningful tasks and provide manageable chunks of learning—yes, when we BREAK IT DOWN, motivate and celebrate each step, those with learning differences learn and become proud of themselves.

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Karen Kaplan is a native San Franciscan. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona in Speech Pathology and Audiology. She minored in Special Education. She obtained her Speech Therapist and Special Education credentials in California. She worked as a speech therapist for both public schools and private schools for 20 years before opening her own residential and education program for students with autism spectrum disorders. She worked in credential programs at Sacramento State University as well as UC Davis. She spent 20 additional years directing private schools for those with autism and similar learning challenges. She founded a small non-profit, Offerings, which travels globally helping other cultures understand those with developmental challenges. She founded and facilitated an autism lecture series and resource fair for seven years in Northern California. She still facilitates an Autism Awesomeness event yearly, showcasing the strengths and talents of those who live on the spectrum. Karen is currently consulting, helping families, schools, and centers for children, teens, and adults. She has published articles to help bring ideas and strategies to families and professionals, providing hope. Karen authored Reach Me Teach Me in the early 70s and went on to publish her second book, On the Yellow Brick Road: My Search for Home and Hope for the Child with Autism, in 2017. Her third book, Typing to Heaven and Back, is not about autism but about having important conversations with those we love. Be sure to connect with Karen—she is always ready to listen and think of the possibilities.

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