Shoe Tying Task Analysis: A Guide for Parents & Autistic Children


Shoe tying is a fundamental skill that most people take for granted once they’ve mastered it. However, for many individuals, particularly children with developmental delays or those with certain disabilities, this seemingly simple task can be quite challenging. Task analysis, a vital component of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) strategies, can be a powerful tool in breaking down the process of shoe tying into manageable steps. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the task analysis for shoe tying, drawing from the principles of ABA, and provide a step-by-step breakdown to help individuals of all ages and abilities master this essential skill.

Understanding Task Analysis in ABA

Before we delve into the specifics of shoe tying, let’s briefly discuss task analysis and its role in ABA. Task analysis is a systematic approach used to break down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable components. This technique is widely employed in the field of ABA to teach a range of skills, from daily living tasks like shoe tying to more complex behaviors.

The primary goal of task analysis is to make learning accessible by breaking down a skill into its constituent steps. This approach helps individuals, especially those with developmental challenges, understand, practice, and ultimately master complex tasks. Task analysis is grounded in the principles of behaviorism, emphasizing the importance of clear and structured instruction to facilitate skill acquisition.

Step 1: Preparing to Teach Shoe Tying

Before diving into the steps of shoe tying, it’s essential to prepare for the teaching process. Here are some key considerations:

Assessment: Begin by assessing the individual’s current skill level. Identify any prerequisite skills that may need to be mastered before tackling shoe tying.

Materials: Ensure you have the necessary materials, such as shoes with laces and a suitable environment for teaching. You may also find it helpful to have visual supports, like diagrams or instructional videos.

Prompting: Decide on the type of prompts you will use during instruction. Prompts can range from physical guidance to verbal cues, depending on the learner’s needs.

Step 2: Breaking Down Shoe Tying

Shoe tying can be a complex task, especially for individuals who are new to it or have specific challenges. To facilitate effective teaching, we’ll break down the process into discrete steps. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

1. Position the Shoe

Sit comfortably with the shoe in front of you, ensuring it’s the correct size and snugly laced.

2: Cross the Laces

Hold one lace in each hand and cross them over the top of the shoe, forming an “X” shape.

3: Make a Knot

Take the lace that’s now on top (either the right or left) and create a simple knot by folding it back towards the shoe and pulling tight through the bottom of the “X”.

4: Loop One Lace

Take the lace that’s now on top (either the right or left) and create a simple loop by folding it back towards the shoe.

5: Create the Second Loop

With the first loop in place, take the other lace and form a second loop in the same manner.

6: Cross the Loops

Now, cross the two loops over each other, creating another “X” shape, but this time with the loops.

7: Tuck One Loop Under

Take one of the loops and tuck it under the other loop, creating a knot-like structure.

8: Pull the Loops Tight

Gently pull both loops to tighten the knot. Ensure it’s snug but not too tight.

9: Repeat on the Other Side

Repeat the entire process on the other shoe.

10: Practice

Practice regularly to build mastery and independence. Gradually decrease prompting and assistance as the individual becomes more proficient.

Step 3: Implementing ABA Strategies

To effectively teach shoe tying using task analysis, it’s essential to incorporate ABA strategies. Here are some ABA principles and strategies that can enhance the teaching process:

Reinforcement: Utilize positive reinforcement, such as praise, rewards, or tokens, to motivate and reward the learner for completing each step correctly.

Prompting: Start with full physical prompting if necessary and gradually fade prompts as the learner gains proficiency. Use least-to-most prompting, beginning with the least intrusive prompt.

Chaining: Employ forward chaining or backward chaining techniques, depending on the learner’s needs. In forward chaining, start with the first step and gradually add subsequent steps. In backward chaining, begin with the final step and work backward.

Task Analysis Cards: Create visual task analysis cards with step-by-step instructions. These cards can serve as visual supports to help the learner remember the sequence of steps.

Modeling: Demonstrate each step of shoe tying and encourage imitation. Model the skill in a clear and concise manner, emphasizing key actions.

Data Collection: Collect data on the learner’s progress to track skill acquisition and identify areas that may require additional practice or support.

Step 4: Individualizing Instruction

Every individual is unique, and the approach to teaching shoe tying should be tailored to their specific needs and abilities. Here are some considerations for individualizing instruction:

Assessment of Readiness: Ensure the learner is developmentally ready for shoe tying. Assess fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and attention span.

Adaptations: Consider using alternative methods or adaptive devices if traditional shoe tying proves too challenging. Velcro straps or elastic laces may be a suitable temporary solution.

Sensory Sensitivities: Be mindful of sensory sensitivities that may impact the individual’s comfort and willingness to engage in the activity. Provide sensory breaks as needed.

Visual Supports: Use visual supports, such as social stories or video modeling, to explain the importance of shoe tying and what to expect during the process.

Consistency: Maintain a consistent teaching approach and environment to minimize confusion and maximize learning.

Step 5: Tracking Progress

Monitoring and tracking progress is an integral part of ABA-based instruction. Here’s how you can effectively track progress when teaching shoe tying:

Data Collection: Keep detailed records of each teaching session. Document the learner’s performance on each step, including the level of prompting required and any errors made.

Graphing Data: Graphing data can help visualize progress over time. Use graphs to identify trends, set goals, and adjust teaching strategies as needed.

Review and Adjust: Regularly review the data to assess the effectiveness of your teaching approach. If progress is slow or stagnant, consider adjusting prompts, reinforcement strategies, or the pace of instruction.

Celebrate Milestones: Celebrate small victories along the way. Acknowledge and praise the learner for mastering individual steps and completing the entire task independently.

Step 6: Generalization and Maintenance

Once the individual has acquired the skill of shoe tying, the focus shifts to generalization and maintenance. Generalization involves applying the skill in various settings and with different shoes, while maintenance ensures that the skill is retained over time. Here are some strategies:

Practice with Different Shoes: Encourage the individual to practice shoe tying with different types of shoes, including those with varying lace lengths and textures.

Community Integration: Promote generalization by having the individual practice shoe tying in different locations, such as at home, school, and in the community.

Peer Modeling: Arrange opportunities for the learner to see peers or role models engage in shoe tying, further reinforcing the skill.

Maintenance Sessions: Schedule periodic maintenance sessions to ensure that the skill remains strong over time.


Mastering the skill of shoe tying is a significant achievement, particularly for individuals with developmental challenges or disabilities. By employing task analysis and utilizing ABA strategies, we can break down this seemingly complex task into manageable steps. Remember that progress may vary from person to person, and patience, persistence, and individualization are key to success.

As you embark on the journey of teaching shoe tying, keep in mind the principles of ABA: assess, plan, teach, monitor, and adjust. With a systematic approach, positive reinforcement, and ongoing support, individuals of all ages and abilities can learn this essential life skill and gain a newfound sense of independence and confidence.

Reviewed by BCBA:

Dani Ducharme
Dani DucharmeBoard Certified Behavior Analyst
Dani has a M.S. in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), from Georgia State University. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and has experience with individuals with a variety of diagnosis and ages. Dani’s clinical interests include early intervention, ethics, parent education, and clinical team collaboration. Her goal is to empower every individual to lead their best lives.