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Teaching Handwashing with a Task Analysis

Image of a child washing hands.

A task analysis is when we break down a skill into small steps and make a list of the steps. This helps us more easily teach the skill our students because we can teach one small step at a time. A task analysis can be used for many different skills, and I often use them to teach self-help skills. I wanted to share a combination task analysis and data sheet for teaching hand washing. What I first like to do is see how many steps the student can do independently. You'll have this data sheet with you, take the student to the sink, and say something like, "Wash your hands." Observe the student, and record which steps the student does without your help. In this case, the student did 2 steps independently.

Image of the data sheet showing the first two steps completed independently.

You can then start teaching the skill, prompting the steps that the student needs help with. The prompts I have listed on the chart are:

  • Full Physical,

  • Partial Physical,

  • Full Verbal,

  • Partial Verbal,

  • Model, and

  • Partial Model.

For handwashing, I often recommend using physical or model prompts. Make sure to fade (reduce) the prompts as soon as possible. If you're not familiar with using these prompts, please read these two blog posts and talk with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

Here's what the data sheet might look like filled out after a few sessions of practice:

Image showing data sheet with four days of data filled in.

You can download and print the task analysis and data sheet free here:

Photo of Dr. Caldwell

Meet Dr. Caldwell

Hi! I'm Dr. Nicole Caldwell and I've been working with students on the autism spectrum for about 12 years. My background is in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Montessori. I have a Master's degree and PhD in special education with an emphasis in autism, and I love what I do! I currently work with children with autism in their homes on social, communication, and academic skills. I specialize in:

•Teaching math to students with math difficulties or math anxiety,

•Teaching science and coding to children with autism, and

•Working on language and communication by embedding learning opportunities into your child’s favorite activities. I think of this as “play to learn.”

If you’re in the Dallas/Rockwall, Texas area and would like to learn more about working with me, please send me an e-mail to and we’ll set up a free initial consultation.

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