Prompts: What They Are And How They Are Used in ABA Therapy

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapists utilize prompts during sessions to support their client in performing a specific task. The term ‘prompting’ means to provide cues or assistance to help encourage the use of a skill. Prompts help children with autism perform a task until it is learned in the most natural way. The ultimate goal of using a prompt is to allow an individual to perform skills independently and in the correct situation without further cues.

What is a Prompt?

A prompt can be many things and are client specific. You want to find the most effective prompting tool to allow your child to respond to and learn from the cues given. You will always see a prompt used before a behavior or task. There are many types of prompts which include:

  • Verbal Prompts: This is providing a verbal cue to the client. For example, you could use the first sound of a word you are teaching.
  • Gestural Prompt: This could be things such as nodding or pointing to an object.
  • Modeling Prompt: This is when you demonstrate the task first then have the child repeat the task.
  • Full Physical Prompt: This is also called hand-over-hand prompting. You are physically guiding the child’s hand to complete the task.
  • Partial Physical Prompt: In this prompting you are still guiding the child, but only when necessary, during the skill.
  • Visual Prompt: This type of prompt can use pictures, videos, or other visual cues.
  • Positional Prompt: This is placing the correct response near the child.

How Are Prompts Utilized in ABA Therapy?

Every situation or skill to be learned can use a different type of prompt or even multiple prompts. ABA therapists try to use the least intrusive prompts when teaching a skill. The goal is to fade away prompts so the child can be successful independently without cues. In using the most effective strategies for your child and in the least intrusive way, cues can be faded away faster as the child learns.

Prompts are used to provide supports and guidance for a learned skill. To better understand how to use prompts, let’s look at an example on how to teach a child to stack a block on top of another block:

  • Verbal Prompts: You may say “Please pick up the block and stack it.” Or you may ask the child “Can you place the block on the other block?”
  • Gestural Prompt: You may point to the block and make a gesture towards the other block.
  • Modeling Prompt: You can model/ show the child how to stack the block.
  • Full Physical Prompt: A hand would be placed over the child’s and together you and the child would stack the block.
  • Partial Physical Prompt: This could be moving the child’s hand to the block.
  • Visual Prompt: A picture of a stacked block would be shown to the child.
  • Positional Prompt: The blocks would be placed near the child’s hands.

As you can see there are many ways to help guide a child to complete a task and learn a skill. Each child learns differently, and it can even differ from task to task how to best cue them to be successful. Prompting can be a great way to teach your child how to learn new skills and is something you as the caregiver can easily use with your child.