What is “chaining?”

When I first started as an ABA therapist, I quickly learned the term chaining. Chaining is a method to teach individuals a complex skill by breaking it down into smaller steps to achieve an ultimate goal. I had the opportunity to train at a home where a child was learning to brush his teeth. Forward chaining was used with this skill. The child would complete the first step independently, which in this case was grabbing his toothbrush. Then I would prompt (hold his hand and physically show him) the rest of the steps until he finished brushing his teeth. This was very beneficial to him because he began to learn the next steps in order and eventually could do most of it independently. It was amazing to see how much he learned everyday, and it was natural to him. The second type of chaining is backward chaining. In backward chaining, I would prompt all the steps in the skill, but the child would do the last step independently. A recent example that I helped teach was teaching a child his phone number. I would prompt the first six digits of the phone number and he would independently say the last four. After a few days, I would only have to prompt the first three numbers and he independently said the rest of it. Eventually he was able to say the entire phone number without any prompting. This was one of the few times I was able to experience teaching a skill using backward chaining. Both types of chaining were a learning experience for me and helped to introduce me to chaining, and how beneficial both can be.