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Using Prompts When Teaching Kids With Autism — Common Problems Encountered When Prompting

The experts at Partington Behavior Analysts understand that it is common for children with autism to require additional guidance, support, and analysis when it comes to the educational and learning processes. That’s why we are committed to promoting high-quality and effective interventions for individuals with autism or other learning or developmental disabilities, through helpful educational resources and training designed for parents, educators, and clinicians.

Common Problems Encountered When Prompting

In our last post, our expert behavior analysts reviewed the importance of removing prompts and the different techniques that can be used to remove the use of prompts, including reducing the number of prompts used, varying the types of prompts that are being used, and delaying the use of prompts altogether. Continuing to use prompts that aren't needed, can delay or impede learner independence, which is one of the problems that may occur when these methods are used. In today’s blog post, we explore other common issues that can be encountered when prompting.

Inadvertent prompts

It can be challenging for adults to be aware of prompts that they may be using when interacting with a child. When teaching children a skill, it is important that adults are aware of their actions, especially those that may be facilitating the correct response of a child unintentionally. This is known as an inadvertent prompt — these cause children to essentially “pick-up” on the wrong details. For example, a child may observe that an adult will always ask him to touch the last picture that was placed in front of him, or he may notice that the adult looks at the correct picture right before asking him to select it, detracting away from the original request. Additionally, children may also be able to guess which response will be required by attending to the sequence of actions that are in a task. When teaching a child to select an object upon request, for example, the instructor may set four objects in front of him. If the instructor requests that the objects are handed to him from left to right, the child may select the correct objects, but not because he knows the names of those items. Instead, the correct objects were selected because the child was aware of the pattern that was requested by the instructor. 

Sometimes unintended prompts occur while a child is in the process of responding to the request to perform a task. For instance, when asked to select an object, the child may start to reach for a different object while watching the facial expression of the instructor to determine whether or not they are reaching for the correct item. In this example, the child is not learning to attend to the spoken request given by the adult, but rather to respond to the feedback that is provided by the instructor's expression. 

Overall, the goal of instruction is to have the child or learner be able to properly respond to spoken words and attend to the critical elements of the task. Therefore, it is essential that instructors carefully monitor their own actions to ensure that they do not detract the child's focus from any task-related stimuli. For best practice, it is encouraged for teachers, parents, and instructors to make sure they do not engage in unintentional actions that may aid the child in making the proper response. An effective way to ensure that a child isn’t attending to inadvertent prompts is to have him or her perform the task with multiple people.

 How Inadvertent Prompts Can Promote Prompt Dependency

Adults need to be able to identify the prompts they are using and learn how to reduce and remove them so that the child does not become dependent on them, which can delay or impede learner independence. Often, a child will be able to properly perform daily tasks and activities because his parent or teacher — sometimes unintentionally — provides the child with certain prompts that trigger the proper response.

A learner’s dependence on these prompts becomes very apparent when he or she is cared for by another individual. For example, a child's morning tooth-brushing routine is normally supervised by the mother, and instead a relative is caring for them in the mother's absence. When that relative tries conducting this normal routine, the child may not be able to independently complete the sequence of activities for brushing their own teeth. The child may only be able to complete the activity when the inadvertent prompts are given. Therefore, adults need to be aware of their prompts so that their children learn to perform activities without requiring assistance.

Children that rely on prompts to complete a task or action are referred to by professionals as “prompt dependent”. Keep in mind, prompt dependency is not a weakness, it is merely a result of ineffective teaching methods that have failed to identify and remove prompts as quickly as possible when teaching new routines or skills. Before prompts are used, adults, teachers, and instructors alike need to have a plan as to how the prompts will be eliminated so that the child will be able to carry out the task or action without them. 

Using prompting techniques is one of the most powerful teaching tools available to parents, teachers, and clinicians because they facilitate the teaching process. When used successfully, prompts teach children to develop new skills and use the newly acquired skills independently. That said, forgetting to remove prompts or unintentionally using prompts can affect a child's ability to use those skills independently.

Effectively Teach Children With Autism Using Effective Resources from Partington Behavior Analysts

Teaching children with autism and other developmental delays requires a specific and diligent approach to ensure the best possible outcome. Partner your efforts in teaching children with autism with Partington Behavior Analysts to have experience-backed resources and tools. View our products, services, and resources online for helpful books and tools, and don’t forget to check back for the next installment of this series in which we review the use of prompts in your teaching plan.

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