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What is a Task Analysis?

three people making a bed, notebook with the task: making a bed broken down into 6 steps.

At a Glance

In this blog post, we will offer some tips on how to identify a task analysis.

Provide a quick overview of some potential pitfalls and strategies for helping it fit the needs of the person you are supporting.

Share resources to support you along the way of making your own task analysis.

If you have worked with an autistic student or client, you may have heard of or ever used an established version of a task analysis as a support tool. 

While on the surface a task analysis may seem pretty straightforward, identifying tasks that could benefit from a task analysis, implementing steps that are individualized to the needs of the person using it, and adjusting as necessary can be a more complicated process. 

Task analyses can also be applied to a wide variety of situations, be hugely beneficial in learning and practicing how to complete tasks within a certain range of complexity, and is widely considered to be an evidence-based practice among professionals. 

As valuable a tool as a task analysis can be, it can also still be helpful to evaluate them and how they are used through the lens of individualizing support and centering the needs and agency of the person being supported. 

In this blog post, we will offer some tips on how to identify a task analysis, as well as give a quick overview of some potential pitfalls and strategies for helping it fit the needs of the person you are supporting.

What constitutes a task analysis?

At its foundation, a task analysis is a list of steps breaking down a complex task. Not every task warrants a task analysis, while some tasks might involve too many variables and potential outcomes for a task analysis to be a useful tool. 

So what kind of task should we be choosing and how should we break it down?

The Task

This guide on task analysis helps set up some parameters around the types of tasks we might want to break down. A “discrete skill” like turning on the sink faucet, where one action essentially completes the entire task, usually isn’t the best fit. If there is a challenge related to a discrete skill other tools such as social stories could help to better hone in on the factors around that particular skill.

Alternately the guide cites “preparing, serving, and cleaning up dinner” and “logging onto the computer and creating a personal webpage” as examples of tasks that are too complex. 

“Preparing, serving, and cleaning up dinner” could reasonably be identified as multiple unique tasks, each of which might require its own task analysis, but together simply involving too many factors and organizational hurdles. 

“Logging onto the computer and creating a personal webpage” is a great example of what the guide describes as “multiple outcomes.” 

If a person is designing a webpage as in this example, they aren’t going to design the exact same webpage every single time. Because of the way that task analyses are constructed, they do not leave a ton of room for open-ended steps, which can be a problem if you intend to make webpages for multiple different purposes or make different dishes for dinner each night. 

While a task analysis can account for some variability in some cases, it should cover a task that involves multiple discrete steps but can also be expected to play out in largely the same way each time it is performed. 

The guide we linked to cites washing dishes and logging into a computer and starting up a program as two strong examples. 

Some additional examples might include brushing teeth, shaving, cleaning a particular appliance, sweeping up a particular space, starting up a complex machine, clocking in at work, or making a specific dish with specific ingredients.

The Breakdown

The breakdown of the task itself can vary from person to person, and working on a task analysis with the person who will be using it may require you to go back and adjust as you find some steps require more description than others. 

Two good general rules for breaking down a task are: 1) to be as specific as possible and 2) to define a step as the least amount of action that still materially changes the situation when it is completed.

What’s the difference between a task analysis and a list of tasks?

We alluded to this idea above but want to further clarify here. A task analysis is all about breaking down a specific task into its components so they can be practiced. 

Figuring out how to tackle a list of complex tasks may require different executive functioning tools, though some individual tasks on a given list may benefit from a task analysis as well. 

As a general rule, if the list of tasks seems fairly broad and lacking in explanation on exactly what to do, then that list probably doesn’t qualify as a task analysis.

What are some benefits of task analysis?

While we may do a deeper dive into the pros and cons of task analysis in a future blog post, there are two crucial ways that task analysis can help a student succeed in learning a task. 

The first is developing a consistent language across everyone involved in the project. This can be crucial for students who may have not previously been offered clarity on what constitutes a completed step as well as anyone in a support role who may all have different ideas of how a given task is completed. This inconsistency across the support team can make it that much harder to build consistent progress because nobody is on the same page!

Our other crucial component is that it lets people in the support role open up a dialogue with the person who is primarily using this tool so everyone can come to a mutual agreement that the steps included in the analysis are the best to try moving forward, establish the goals we are working toward with this particular task, and to reevaluate when things seem to not be working as well as we might like. 

Just the act of creating and evaluating the analysis helps us pinpoint areas of concern and where it feels like things are going wrong and can help actively solve problems rather than just continue to build up frustration.

Are there any potential risks with task analysis?

The primary risk with task analysis is that it turns into a rigid exercise of “behavior correction.” The VCU guide we linked to above, while offering some great advice on how to build a task analysis, also demonstrates this rigidity by encouraging correction even when a task is approximated. 

This issue pops up even though we and the guides both know that flexibility is supposed to be built into this system and that analyses can be revised to fit new realities as we come to better understand them.

If you are looking to avoid this particular pitfall, one great way to do so when you do notice some variation from the established list is to first ask whether that variation makes a huge difference in the way the task is completed. 

If so, that might be a reason to check in and see if we need to course correct. If it is a perfectly reasonable approach, that may be a sign that we can adjust our steps to better fit with the style of the person who is making use of them in the first place. 

As always we want to be there with the right practice tools should the person we are supporting need it, and that may mean correcting or reminding in some instances especially when everyone is on the same page about what is important. 

But the more we can remind ourselves to make absolutely certain we are paying attention to the autonomy and goals of the person using these tools, the more likely we will be to avoid those pitfalls and maintain task analyses as a helpful and enriching tool.


So far we have covered the basics of task analysis and shared some potential benefits and pitfalls of using them, as well as linked to a handful of helpful task analysis guides. 

As we continue this series we hope to get a little more in-depth on spaces you might wish to apply task analysis as well as the process of creating one. 

If you’d like to hear us go more in-depth around task analysis or share your own experience with them we’d love to hear from you! Please drop us a line at and we will be back soon to go deeper on this topic.

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