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Using Prompts When Teaching Kids With Autism — Part I

Teaching kids with autism requires dedication, planning, and analysis on the part of everyone involved in the education process. As the leading source for educational products and services, Partington Behavior Analysts is here to provide resources for parents, educators, and clinicians alike. In our previous post, our experienced behavior analysts discussed eight basics of good teaching in an effort to help answer the common question, “What do I need to do to become an effective teacher?” The basics include the following steps for success:

  • Assessing known and unknown skills
  • Selecting developmentally appropriate skills to teach
  • Ensuring motivation
  • Making learning fun
  • Ensuring the child is attending
  • Presenting clear instructions
  • Developing learner readiness

In this two-part series, we’ll explore the importance of using prompts when teaching kids with autism. Part one will provide an overview of prompting and a conceptual review of the process. In part two, we’ll cover several different types of prompts that you can include in your teaching plan. Let’s get started.

Prompting Overview

Using prompting techniques is one of the most powerful teaching tools available to parents and teachers because they facilitate the process of the learner doing what we want them to do. This facilitation process includes many forms of assistance, which are referred to as “prompts.” Examples of prompts you may incorporate are actions such as physical guidance, pointing, gesturing, highlighting items, or providing additional verbal explanations.

When used successfully, they teach children to develop new skills and use the newly acquired skills independently. We often say that the use of prompts helps learners acquire many new skills promptly, but it is important to consider the prompting procedure from a conceptual standpoint for it to be most effective.

Conceptual Review

Considering the prompting process includes determining when to use a prompt, when not to use a prompt, which type of prompt to use, and how to fade the prompt appropriately to promote the independent use of the newly learned skill. These considerations play a critical role in reinforcing gradual and successive steps toward the targeted behavior until the child can independently perform the new skill.

From previous discussions about reinforcers and reinforcements, we understand that incorporating reinforcement is a process in which there is a change in the environment that follows a certain behavior, resulting in an increased probability that the specific behavior will occur more often in the future under similar circumstances. Therefore, when we begin to prompt, we should deliver reinforcement immediately after the child produces the prompted response. By reinforcing the prompted response, we strengthen the following:

  • The child’s cooperation in going along with the instructor
  • Any steps in the prompted response that were carried out independently
  • Performance of the targeted response

Prompts should only be used when absolutely necessary and their use should be faded as soon as the child’s behavior allows. Timing the removal of the prompt properly and reinforcing the targeted response appropriately leads to an increase in the child’s independent responses and a decrease in the need for prompts. Prompting alone doesn’t teach a new behavior, it just helps to get a targeted response to occur. In other words, the change in behavior results from delivering the reinforcement.

How and When to Prompt

Parents and teachers may naturally wonder how and when to prompt their learner. Prompting should occur when a child is unable to carry out a targeted response consistently and independently. It is necessary to determine which steps of the response the learner can perform on their own so that you can then decide on which type of prompt to use for the remaining steps of the response.

Three variables should influence the selection of prompts:

  • The child’s skill level
  • The skill that is being taught and which steps are difficult for the child
  • Which prompt will be the least intrusive, providing the child with the least amount of assistance necessary to achieve the targeted response

Resources for Teaching Kids with Autism

Understanding the concept of prompting as well as how and when to incorporate it into your teaching plan is essential to your child’s success and Partington Behavior Analysts is here for you every step of the way. Check back soon for the next installment of this series. In the meantime, be sure to browse the products, services, and resources available online that are designed to help those charged with the important task of teaching kids with autism, elevating the quality of life for young learners.

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