Prompting is an essential ABA technique that consists of providing various levels of assistance to perform a specific task. The ultimate goal of prompting is to teach the child to demonstrate target skills independently. Continue reading to learn about different prompt types and how they are used in ABA therapy.
What Is a Prompt?
Prompting is a strategy commonly used by ABA therapists to teach new skills and increase learning in children with autism spectrum disorder. A prompt can be an instruction, a gesture, a demonstration, or any other form of assistance that encourages the child to produce a correct response or display the desired behavior.
Why are prompts used?
In ABA therapy, prompts are used to give children on the autism spectrum cues that will help them perform given tasks and eventually enable them to engage in target behaviors independently. The therapist will systematically provide or remove prompts until the child begins to perform the skill without any external help.
When are prompts used?
Prompts in ABA therapy are given before the behavior starts, which means that they are always antecedents. A prompt is generally placed after the instruction and before the child’s response.
Prompts can be used in the following situations:
- When the child is about to provide an incorrect response
- When the child gives a wrong response
- When the child doesn’t respond to instructions.
Below, we list the main types of prompts used during ABA therapy sessions.
Types of Prompts
Prompts come in many different forms and some are more intrusive than others. Here are the most commonly used ones.
Verbal prompts are considered to be the least intrusive of all prompt types. Verbal prompting consists of providing verbal assistance, such as a verbal cue, a hint, or providing a part of the answer, in order to help the child use target skills correctly. For example, the therapist may instruct a child to pick up a toothbrush to indicate the first step of brushing their teeth.
Gestural prompts include gestures, such as looking at an object, pointing, reaching, nodding, or touching an object. The goal of providing a gestural prompt is to communicate the action that the child is supposed to take. For example, the therapist can point at a ball to show that the child should pick it up.
It is important to keep in mind that gestural prompts are always silent. When they are accompanied by verbal instructions, the therapist is simultaneously using two different prompts.
Model prompting refers to performing the target skill to show what the child is supposed to do. For example, when teaching a child the correct way to wash hands, the therapist may need to demonstrate to the child the step-by-step process of hand washing.
Full physical prompt
Full physical prompting, also known as hand-over-hand (HOH) assistance, involves physically guiding the child to help him or her perform the target skill. For instance, the therapist can take the child’s hand to lead them to a different location, guide the child’s hand to draw a letter, or move the child’s hand to teach proper teeth-brushing technique.
Full physical prompts are considered to be the most intrusive kind of prompts as the child is relying entirely on the therapist’s assistance to complete the task. This form of prompting is commonly used to teach fine and gross motor skills, as well as in situations where less restrictive prompts are not efficient.
Partial physical prompt
Partial physical prompts are less intrusive than full physical ones. Partial physical prompting includes actions such as gentle tapping on the child’s hand in order to help them complete the given task. In this case, the therapist provides some assistance to guide the child through parts of the activity, but less than in a full physical prompt.
Visual prompts use different types of images, such as visual schedules, videos, photographs, drawings, first-then boards, social stories, or flashcards with the right answer, to convey information about the correct response. These supports serve as gentle reminders to the child about how they should respond in a given situation.
Using visuals is a great way to teach children with autism a wide variety of skills, from play activities to daily routines, without having to resort to more invasive prompting methods. It is also effective for teaching the steps of more complex activities by helping the child visualize the task sequences that they are expected to follow.
Positional prompting, sometimes also referred to as spatial prompting, consists of the therapist placing an object in proximity to the child to give more information about the correct answer. To illustrate, if the child is supposed to use a red crayon to make a drawing, the therapist can place the red crayon closer to the child’s hand than the other crayons. This way, the therapist will subtly assist the child to pick up the correct item.
Why Are Prompts Important?
Prompts are an essential part of teaching new skills in ABA therapy. Using prompts can help children with autism learn the steps they need to follow to demonstrate a target behavior or master a task.
When implemented correctly, prompting can help the child learn more efficiently, increase the rate of responding, lower frustration, and reduce the occurrences of aggressive behaviors. It is also an invaluable tool for developing independence and self esteem in children with autism.
Moreover, using prompts is a positive way of teaching new skills and behaviors. It encourages learning because children are able to continually make progress, without being corrected each time they make a mistake.
Finally, the wide selection of prompts to choose from enables ABA therapists to adapt teaching new skills to the child’s age, functioning level, and individual needs. For example, by offering a physical prompt, the therapist can minimize the language necessary to teach the task, which is especially useful for children on the autism spectrum who have limited verbal capabilities.
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