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Task Analysis

Sometimes, when we are working with kids, we get frustrated because we have gone over the same thing a "million times" and they aren't "getting it". We continually wrack our brains trying to figure out different ways to teach it, ways to make it fun, ways to break it up, we teach it slower, we teach it faster, we get mad, sometimes we blame the kid for "not trying hard enough" and sometimes we even give up!

Breaking tasks into small chunks (task analysis) is not a new idea by any means, but because we are busy and have so many irons in the fire, I am sorry to say, we often forget to look carefully at pre-requisite skills and sub-skills. I am talking about dissecting the task into individual steps and then asking; "Does this child have the skills to do each step?" Too many times it is easy to assume that because they see to be automatic or easy for others, every child has mastered each of the required individual steps for seemingly simple tasks.

I reminded of this because of a recent situation. A young student diagnosed with mild mental retardation has lived in a home-like institution since birth recently began attending public school. This institution reported to the school that the student had been washing his hands independently for 2 years. At school, however, the student would not wash his hands, and, appeared unable to wash his hands independently despite prompts from staff. Due to his relatively high level of functioning, and his quick adjustment to other aspects of school, there did not appear to be a reasonable explanation for this anomaly.

After trying other instructional techniques the staff decided to do a task analysis of hand washing and broke the steps down into very minute steps. Through this process an interesting thing was discovered: this student did not know how to turn a faucet, nor did he know how to use a bar of soap. In fact, he had never seen a bar of soap! At the institution they used liquid soap for all washing and had automatic faucets in showers and sinks. The school staff had assumed the student knew faucet and soap and because of this had concentrated their instruction on more obvious steps involved in washing (following directions, going in and out of the bathroom, etc...) but always ended up “helped him with the soap and water part of washing - just to get through it” not realizing that was exactly what he didn’t know how to do! Once they provided instruction and practice using bar soap and turning faucets, everything went great!

This experience reminded the staff that pre-requisite skills, subskills, and step-by step analysis of tasks is still an important aspect of special education and cannot be discounted. They also realized that not everything is as it appears!

It reminds me that LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT.

Have a great Day!

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