Prompting 101

I had a supervision session yesterday with a new therapist, that made me think of a topic for a blog post: Prompting

Prompting in ABA is a method or tool used to move the learner from incorrect responding to correct responding. When done correctly, prompting increases the rate of responding, lowers frustration, and helps the individual learn more efficiently.
If I know you don't know how to bake a pie, I wouldn't give you a demand to "Make a cherry pie" and then just stand back and watch you struggle. Practicing errors impedes learning. I would step in to provide you with prompting and guidance as much as you needed, in order to help you be successful.

There are many ways you can prompt:

(Some prompts will be much more intrusive than other prompts. This is not an exhaustive list of ALL possible prompts. it is simply a way to understand types of prompting)

  • Physical - Hand over Hand (HOH), leading a child by the hand, or physically moving a child
  •  Verbal - Can be partial verbal or full verbal
  •  Model - Demonstrating for the child what you want them to do
  •  Gestural - Gesturing, pointing, making a non verbal motion to show the child what to do (*note: don’t combine with words, that’s actually 2 prompts) 
  •  Visual - Larger stimuli, brightly colored stimuli
  •  Spatial (proximity) - Putting the correct choice nearer to the child than the incorrect choice
  •  Sequential (order in which things are presented) - Working on easy tasks first and building up to difficult tasks
  •  Textual (written) - Writing out the steps of the task
  •  Tactile - Using the actual stimuli as a prompt/reminder, such as placing a briefcase by the front door so you don’t forget it the next day

To increase prompting to improve learning, move UP the prompting hierarchy (from least to most intrusive).  To fade out prompts and prevent prompt dependency move DOWN the prompting hierarchy (from most to least). Generally, the most to least prompting hierarchy would be: Full physical, partial physical, full vocal, partial vocal, modeling, gestural. *This is a general guideline, and is leaving out many other types or prompts

During tablework you will use many different types of prompts at different times, usually when teaching a new skill. The child shouldn't need much prompting for a known skill. If they do you may want to examine your teaching procedure and also make sure the child has the prerequisite skills needed for the current target.

The therapist I worked with yesterday was making a common error that can happen with new therapists and also with parents. She was over prompting the child and then reinforcing those prompted responses. The therapist would put out her materials, give the SD, and then glance at the correct card for a few seconds. The child would watch her face, select the card the therapist glanced at, and then receive a candy for getting a "right" answer. I brought this to the therapists attention who was completely unaware this was a prompt. She asked me, "How do I know if something I am doing is a prompt?"  There is an easy way to determine this. Ask yourself, "If I remove this step, would the child still be able to do the task?" If the answer is no then you are over prompting.

Something I used to do as a new therapist was place my materials on the table with the distractors closest to me, and the target closest to the child. There was no reason I did this other than that it was easier for me to lay the flashcards out that way. Well one day while being supervised I moved the cards around in a different way than normal. The child immediately began missing responses. So then I had the fun task of trying to explain to my supervisor why this child was missing all these tasks that I "knew" he could do. We both realized I had been inadvertently prompting the child to always reach for the closest card. Lesson learned for me!

Prompting can be very easy to accidentally do, and sometimes you have to purposely change the way you do something to see if you are using a prompt.

If you remove a glance, a touch, a word, a facial expression, or a gesture, and the child "suddenly" cant do the task anymore then you were prompting the task all along.


  1. Where are some of the sources you lifted your prompt stuff from? I know about the cooper book. Are their other sources that you like to pull form on this topic?

    1. Absolutely, beyond the Cooper book (which I love) I also frequently pull from A Work In Progress and Behavioral Interventions for Young Children with Autism. All 3 are just overflowing with so much amazing information.

  2. can you please explain if prompting is considered an antecedent, SD or a behavior? Example, you tell the child "touch nose" (which is an SD), you physically prompt the child, and then give him the reinforcement. Would the physical prompt here be the behavior? can you give example how you would conduct the session when prompting ?

    1. A prompt is delivered before the target behavior occurs, like in the example you gave (which would be an Errorless Prompt). When you deliver some type of cue or assistance AFTER the target behavior, that is a consequence or correction procedure.
      I'm not sure I'm understanding your last question, so feel free to contact me directly at


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