Prompts are ways we help our learners demonstrate new skills. We use prompts to get our students to greet a peer, flush the toilet, name the color blue, and clap their hands. Prompts are something we add to the situation because the natural or teaching cue was not enough to cause the student to respond. The natural cue of being finished using the toilet was not a strong enough reminder to flush the toilet so we added the verbal prompt, “flush the toilet” and the student now responds. Prompts are important but fading them is just as important. It was almost difficult for me to break up Monday’s and today’s posts into two separate blog posts because prompting and prompting fading are so intertwined. Prompt fading needs to be planned from the start and an integral and essential component to the plan. Unless you are committing to following that child around for the rest of his life and tell him to flush the toilet – prompt fading is essential. 

Some rules for prompt fading:

  • Plan it out from the start.

  • Train your staff. 

  • Do it gradually. 

  • If incorrect responding begins, return to last prompt level. 

Least to Most Prompt Fading

Like we discussed in Monday’s post, least to most prompting involves starting with the least intrusive prompts and moving up in the prompting hierarchy. This can be beneficial because it gives students to the opportunity to be independent and you are only providing as much prompting as needed. This is a strategy we tend to use naturally. When you meet a your friend’s toddler you put out your hand to give a high five. If she doesn’t respond you say, “give high five.” If she still doesn’t respond you move her hand to your hand to give a high five. This is a natural method of prompting. When using this method, ideally the prompts will be somewhat self fading. If you are always starting at the least intrusive prompt, your students will have the opportunity to demonstrate independence. As the student begins to learn the task, he will need less and less prompts to perform it correctly. 

Some key tips for using this prompt fading procedure:

  • allow wait time; if you do not provide wait time you may be providing more prompts than needed and taking away the opportunity for the student to respond correctly 
  • take data; data is key to track progress. Every time you utilize this prompting method – note the level of prompt you used. You want to see that your student is requiring less intrusive prompts as time goes on. This will help avoid prompt dependence. 
  • use high powered reinforcers; use an item that is actually a reinforcer that your student wants to work for. The sooner he demonstrates the skills, the sooner he gets the reinforcer. 

However, some children learn to “wait” for the prompt, meaning over time their learning history has shown them that if they do not respond a prompt will come and reinforcement will follow. Students may have never responded correctly with a less intrusive type of prompt and have never contacted reinforcement. If this occurs you can try most-to-least prompt, a time delay (we will talk about tomorrow), or re-evalute if you are using this strategy correctly (ie. providing wait time, using a reinforcer, etc.)

Most to Least Prompt Fading

Most to Least prompt fading is another effective method of using prompts. With this method you start the most intrusive prompts and gradually fade to less intrusive prompts. The prompt fading is build right in. However, sometimes people forget that and in their head rename this most to most prompting. The key to errorless learning and using the most intrusive prompts first is that you fade the prompts out. The idea behind most to least prompting is that students will contact reinforcement right away and you will avoid errors and the students developing any incorrect habits.

How to fade prompts in Most to Least Prompting: 

  • set criteria for changing prompts; once your student hits a particular number of days or sessions or trials at a particular prompt level, fade to the next level; take data to track progress
  • once you hit the criteria move to the next type of prompt; refer to our prompt hierarchy or order that is in Monday’s post. Move up the list to less and less intrusive prompts. 
  • fade magnitude than switch prompt type; before you switch from a gestural to a verbal prompt adjust the magnitude of the prompt. A dramatic point to an object is different that a nod of your head. 

Data is critically important for avoiding prompt dependence. You want to set a criteria ahead of time and take data to make sure you are sticking with the criteria. The criteria you set will depend on the student and the task. Maybe you want 3 consecutive days with each prompt level. If you are taking data you can ensure that you are sticking to that schedule. If errors begin occurring, go back a prompt level. The data will guide your implementation of this procedure. If you are fading too quickly, your data will tell you! 

Prompt fading isn’t scary. Plan ahead and make sure to train your staff. This a group endeavor! In tomorrow’s post, we will review use time delay to fade prompts!