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Using Prompts When Teaching Kids With Autism — Removal of Prompts

All children have unique learning needs, but children with autism require extra dedication, guidance, planning, support, and analysis in the educational and learning processes. As the leading source for educational products and services, Partington Behavior Analysts is committed to promoting high-quality, effective interventions for individuals with autism or other developmental and learning disabilities by providing educational resources and training to parents, educators, and clinicians. In our last blog post, we continued our discussion on the concept of prompting, specifically the types of prompts, which included the following:

  • Physical prompts
  • Imitative prompts
  • Gestural prompts
  • Positional prompts
  • Echoic prompts
  • Verbal prompts
  • Picture and word prompts
  • Visual highlights

As stated in our previous post, this wide range of prompts can be used effectively when teaching kids with autism. However, any prompts that are used to teach a skill need to be eliminated as quickly as possible to help teach children to develop new skills and use their newly acquired skills independently. Below, we’ll continue our discussion of ‘Using Prompts When Teaching Kids With Autism’. In this blog post, we’ll focus on the fading, delaying, and removal of the varying types of prompts. Let’s get started.

Removing Prompts

Prompting techniques are some of the most powerful teaching tools that are available to parents and teachers. When used successfully, prompts help learners acquire many new skills and tasks quickly. Once the skills are learned, however, the goal is for the child to perform the tasks by only the task-related stimuli, such as the words they hear or the items they see. 

When parents or teachers are successful in getting a child with autism to engage in certain behaviors when a prompt is provided, the prompting behavior of the parent or teacher has been reinforced. When parents or teachers become reinforced, they are able to observe the child engaging in the desired, prompted behavior — they may have a higher probability of continuing to use prompts, even though it would be more beneficial for the learner if the prompt slowly faded away or discontinued immediately. 

Keep in mind, the reinforcer for the teaching behavior should be the observation of the learner performing the new skill independently. Continuing to use prompts can delay or impede learner independence. When the skill is learned, there are many ways 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.

Fading of Prompts

There are many ways that parents, educators, and clinicians can eliminate prompts. Full physical or full echoic prompts can easily be reduced or faded by simply using lesser amounts of the prompts. Rather than discontinuing immediately, systematically providing less of, or fading, the prompt, can be more effective. For example, if a skill was learned through full physical prompts, moving to a partial physical prompt can help the learner move closer towards independence. Additionally, it is possible to change a physical prompt to a verbal or imitative prompt. Eventually, all prompts should be eliminated so the child can complete the skill as independently as possible.

Varying the Types of Prompts

When trying to eliminate prompts, it can be effective to use a variety of different prompts. Some teachers have been trained to follow a rigid set of guidelines to systematically eliminate prompts. For instance, if a child is able to correctly respond to a certain prompt level in a consecutive amount of attempts, the teacher could then move on to the next, least-intrusive prompt. This strategy can be used until all the prompts for a certain response are eliminated. 

Rather than sequentially eliminating prompts one at a time, it can sometimes be more helpful to use a variety of them. In many situations, switching the prompts can help reduce the dependency on any one particular type of prompt.

Delaying Prompts

When fading or eliminating the use of prompts, another effective strategy to implement is giving the child enough time to respond before using a prompt in the first place. When an instruction has been given, it is important that enough time is allowed for the child to respond. Delaying the use of a prompt, even just for a few seconds, often gives the child enough time to respond, making it possible to reinforce the unprompted response and promote independence. The same rule applies when the learner is engaged in a sequencing task. After completing a response, if the instructor waits for a few seconds, the child may proceed to start doing the next response in the sequence without the need of a prompt.

An important teaching skill to utilize when reducing or eliminating prompts is the careful observation of the learner's actions. It is important to look for subtle actions that indicate the child is likely to make the required response. If the child seems to be thinking about which response is next in the sequence, it is best to give them some time to try to figure it out independently. If they need assistance, the teacher can use a prompt to promote the proper response. 

Remember, the goal of using prompts is to get the correct responses developed so that the child becomes more independent and there is no longer the need for anyone to prompt the right response. 

Effective Resources For Teaching Kids With Autism

The experts at Partington Behavior Analysts are here to provide parents, teachers, and clinicians with the resources they need to effectively teach children with autism, elevating their quality of life to its fullest potential. With online courses and training workshops to online consultations, our expert behavior analysts can provide you with assistance to suit both you and the learner’s needs!

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