Using Prompts When Teaching Kids With Autism — Part II

Welcome back to the Partington Behavior Analysts blog. Our mission in writing articles and publishing them online is to help parents, teachers, and clinicians in their mission of teaching kids with autism. In our previous post, we discussed the concept of prompting as well as how and when to incorporate it into your teaching plan. In part two of this series, we’ll explore the different types of prompts that may be helpful for you and your child in your educational journey. Let’s get started.

Types of Prompts

It is not necessary to limit yourself to a single prompt. Rather, parents and teachers can use a wide range of prompts when teaching kids with autism. Each prompt varies to the extent that they influence the child’s response. Let’s review the types of prompts now.

Physical Prompts

Physical prompts involve manipulating the child’s body to accomplish the targeted response. This might include helping the child move their entire body, arms, hands, legs, head, or mouth to make a certain movement. For example, you may instruct your child to sit down. If the child does not understand the instruction, then you may move their body until they are in a seated position. This type of prompt is considered a full physical prompt. A partial physical prompt is one in which you may have to move the child’s body or body parts to begin the initial stages of the response, but the child completes the later stages of the response on their own.

Imitative Prompts

This type of prompt involves a combination of providing the child with verbal instruction and an imitative model that demonstrates exactly how to perform the targeted task or response. Similar to physical prompts, imitative prompts may be considered either full or partial. For example, let’s say you want your child to put a dollar bill into a vending machine. A full imitative prompt might involve modeling the entire action by instructing your child to put a dollar bill in a vending machine as you demonstrate how to do so.

Partial imitative prompts can become part of the fading process as the child learns to complete the steps independently. This may involve only partially modeling the action. For example, you may instruct your child to put the bill in the machine as you move your hand with the dollar halfway toward the machine without actually inserting it.

Gestural Prompts

Gestural prompts include actions such as pointing toward a specific object, making a hand motion, turning one’s head a certain direction, or even just looking at a particular item. Additional examples include:

  • Making a hand motion to instruct your child to come to you
  • Opening a palm toward your child to get them to stop
  • Placing your index finger to your lips in a “shhh” movement to encourage quiet
  • Pointing a finger at an object you want your child to select

One common problem with gestural prompts is that many of the movements are so natural that parents and teachers may not even realize they are using them. For example, inadvertent prompting can occur if you unintentionally look or gesture toward an item you want your child to select without knowing it. Thus, it is critical that parents and teachers watch every move they make when providing instruction to avoid inadvertently prompting their learner.

Positional Prompts

Positional prompting involves positioning the materials used in a lesson in such a way that it makes the correct response more likely to occur. For example, if you want to teach your child to receptively discriminate items, such as selecting a spoon rather than a plate or cup when all three are on the table, then you may position the spoon so that it is closer to your child than the plate or the cup is. When fading positional prompts, it is often very easy to simply adjust the placement of materials to encourage your child to produce the targeted response independently as the items get closer to each other.

Echoic Prompts

When a child repeats the name of something immediately after someone says it, it is called vocal imitation or echoic responding. This process of including echoic prompting can lead to your child learning the name of an object by having them repeat it back to you after you say it. For example, when you are teaching your child to label a shoe, you may show the child the object while saying the word “shoe.” After you show your child the object and label it with the word “shoe,” you ask them to repeat the word “shoe.” Care must be taken if echoic cues are not faded quickly enough, as your child may begin to wait for you to provide a partial echoic before responding with the targeted label.

Verbal Prompts

Direct and indirect verbal prompts are helpful in telling your child what they must do to accomplish a certain task. Let’s say you instruct your child to brush your teeth. If they walk into the bathroom and grab their toothbrush, but they are uncertain of the next step, you can provide a direct verbal prompt by instructing them to get the toothpaste. Indirect verbal prompts seek to achieve the same targeted response, but aim to elicit it indirectly. For example, rather than instructing your child to grab the toothpaste, you may prompt them with a question like, “What’s next?” As it is with other prompts, it is important to fade and eliminate verbal prompts as quickly as possible so that your child can learn to complete the task without any instruction.

Picture and Word Prompts

While imitative, gestural, positional, echoic, and verbal prompts all require teachers and parents to make an in-the-moment adjustment to help a child learn and respond correctly to a specific response, there are other steps that can be taken prior to an activity to help ensure successful completion of a task. The main difference between this type of prompt is that the child is taught to independently review the pictures or words to perform a targeted task.

For example, a series of pictures (i.e. picture prompts) may be used to encourage your child to perform the sequence of steps involved to complete a targeted response. The benefit to picture prompts is that the child merely needs to be taught to attend to the pictures and perform the steps, requiring no action on the part of the teacher or parent. For children who can read, a similar strategy involving textual, or word, prompts can be used to teach a child to perform all the steps necessary to complete a task.

Visual Highlights

Highlighted visual tasks are another method of helping your child correctly perform a task. We see this in everyday situations, such as when we cross the street. When the words on the street signal change from “Walk” to “Don’t Walk,” not only does their color change, but they also begin blinking. Incorporating a highlighted or emphasized visual stimulus can prompt your child to attend to critical elements of a task that they may not be able to discern or recognize in the absence of the stimulus.

Resources for Teaching Kids with Autism

Partington Behavior Analysts is here to help parents, teachers, and clinicians develop strategic plans for teaching kids with autism, elevating children’s quality of life to its fullest potential. From training workshops and online courses to online consultations, you’re sure to find the assistance that suits your learner’s needs.

Prompts are just one part of this strategy, and you may find that you encounter some challenges during the course of prompting. In our next article, we’ll provide tips for removing, fading, and varying the types of prompts incorporated in your teaching program, as well as discuss some of the most common problems that are encountered during the prompting process. Check back soon for our next article and in the meantime, contact us to learn more about our products and services.


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