How To Prompt A Child With Autism Effectively


Within an ABA program, there will be many opportunities for prompting a child with autism to succeed. It is sort of the cornerstone for a child with autism to learn and to succeed. If a therapist never prompted, a child will be incorrect and therefore motivation to learn drops. Prompting is just another word of helping or assisting the child to a correct response. Prompting is seen outside of an ABA context as it is a useful tool in school settings, corporate settings and home settings. Ever pointed to a puzzle piece with the intention of helping when doing a puzzle with your daughter? That’s prompting.

A Little More On Prompting

  • Prompting always assists the child to a correct response
  • It ensures the child to succeed and reduces frustration so that the therapist can deliver reinforcement
  • A prompt can be anything as long as the therapist or family member knows they are using a prompt
  • A prompt should be available to all therapists, teachers and family members.
  • Prompts should be faded over time to ensure an independent response from the child. Some children will need a “built-in” prompt for a period of time for a success to occur. Such examples include training wheels on a bike, floaties for swimming, or a verbal reminder to wash hands after you use the bathroom.
  • For new tasks that the child is learning always use the most intrusive prompt to ensure a high rate of success. For tasks that are mastered and known to the child, use a least intrusive prompt before moving on to more intrusive prompts. There will be some behaviors, though, that a more intrusive prompt such as a full physical prompt, is more appropriate than a less intrusive prompt like modeling the behavior. You can see this when teaching a child to imitate actions of a therapist. Most likely a therapist will say, “Do This” and make an action such as tap table. It is best then, that therapist physically guide the child to the behavior as the instruction already includes a model of the behavior (tap table).
  • Be careful about inadvertent prompting, assistance that you are not aware of. Examples include looking at the correct response, mouthing the answer and leaning towards the correct response. Therapists may not even realize they are doing these behaviors.

When Does A Therapist Use A Prompt While Teaching?

  • In Discrete Trial Teaching the prompt is delivered immediately after the SD, also known as the instruction:

    SD (prompt)→ R→ Consequence

  • When a therapist is teaching a new skill or behavior. Prompting is always the heaviest when you are teaching a new skill to ensure success and therefore reinforcement.
  • Prompts can be built into the teaching sequence if you find the child struggling with an independent response. Be careful that the child doesn’t become Prompt Dependent, whereby the child is waiting for the prompt. This usually occurs when the therapist cannot fade the prompt. You can get rid of prompt dependency by putting the behavior on hold and working on another behavior or getting a more experienced therapist to try and fade the prompt effectively

Types Of Prompts


  • Full Physical Prompt aka HOH – HOH or hand-over-hand prompting is a full physical prompt. The therapist does the entire action while physically prompting the child.
  • Partial Physical Prompting – Therapist partially assists the child to a correct response. If the therapist is teaching to “wave bye-bye” a partial physical prompt can look like tapping the elbow for the child to raise their hand and to wave.
  • Model – Therapist models the correct behavior. If the therapist asks the child to “stand up” a therapist can model the stand up behavior.
  • Positional – Many teaching opportunities require objects or 2D cards on a table. To utilize a positional prompt, the therapist can move the object or card closer to the child. This will make the child reach for the closest object or card.
  • Within-Stimulus – This prompt is part of the object or 2D card. For example, when teaching Wet and Dry, having a wet cloth next to a dry cloth is a within stimulus prompt.
  • Response-Delay – This type of prompt is useful for children who respond too quickly and may not even hear the instruction. So a therapist can give the instruction and then inhibit the child from responding for x amount of seconds. This will give the child time to process the instruction. A response-delay prompt shouldn’t be used on whim. It is a very specific prompt for a specific behavior response.
  • Verbal – a full verbal prompt is saying the entire phrase or word. For example, if you are teaching the child to recognize objects and verbalize the object, a therapist can give the instruction, “What is it?” while hold up an object or 2d card and then give the prompt, “Say bear.” A partial verbal will fade back “say bear” to “bear” and then if needed, “buh.”
  • Inflection/Deflection – used for verbal responses. A therapist may inflect a certain part of the word or phrase if you find the child not saying that part. For deflection, a therapist may note that the child is over emphasizing a sound or over inflecting a sound in a word so a therapist will model the correct way with a deflection prompt.
  • Gestural – pointing is a common gestural prompt.

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