Applied Behavior Analysis therapy offers a wide range of techniques to help teach children with autism. Prompt hierarchy may especially helpful for teaching autistic children a new task. This represents an important step in helping a child develop a greater quality of life as an adult.

With this ABA treatment strategy “Prompting” refers to the level of instruction a child is given when you ask them to complete a task. It can be a physical, visual, or verbal cue that works best for that specific child. In this way, the prompt hierarchy orders the level of prompting based on how intrusive degree of the instruction. The overarching goal is to use the fewest intrusive strategies possible while developing the new skill.

How An ABA Therapist Uses Prompting

Prompting is a highly effective technique used by ABA therapists use prompting help children with autism. It’s a methodology designed to help the child learn the correct way to do something while also minimizing any potential mistakes.

One example of verbal prompting in action would be to ask the child “What is the next thing you need to do?” This essentially encourages process thinking and is especially helpful for autistic children who learn best through repetitive tasks. Another type of prompting might be to use a physical cue, where the ABA therapist places their hands over the child’s hands and carefully guides them through performing a manual dexterity task.

The Benefits Of Prompting For Teaching Children With Autism

There are several ways to teach children with some degree of autism, though prompting tends to be one of the most successful methodologies. When developed specifically for the needs of that child it has several benefits compared to other methods. This includes:

  • Helping teach the child the best way to reach a specific goal
  • Reducing frustration in the learning process
  • Providing the child with a necessary level of support when learning difficult tasks

Teaching A Child The Best Way To Accomplish Their Goal

Most people will stick to the same methodology for accomplishing a task when they learn it on their own. This is especially true with autistic children who learn best through repetition.
Using prompting when teaching a new task to a child with autism enables them to learn the best way to reach their goal by shortening the learning curve. Prompting is especially helpful when teaching children basic skills like properly washing their hands, dressing themselves, and other essential self-care tasks that are a part of their everyday routine.

Reducing Frustration During The Learning Process

Learning something new can be a challenge for anyone. It can be especially challenging for children on the autism spectrum who tend to think differently from other people. Changing prompts and increasing the degrees of prompting helps a child to better understand the process. The process can also use a variety of different cues to meet a variety of different tasks.

With a prompt hierarchy therapy strategy, you can more easily think of other ways can teach your child to help them learn a new task with minimal frustration. In this way, it offers alternative options to help your child better understand specifically what you are trying to teach them. There’s also a level of interaction that gives the child a sense that they are being fully supported.

Providing An Elevated Level Of Support When Learning Difficult Tasks

When a child with autism struggles with a task, it is often due to them not fully understanding what they need to do, or in some cases, they simply lack the manual dexterity to effectively complete the task. When prompt hierarchy is used it elevates the level of support the autistic child receives as they learn complex tasks that they might not be ready to fully do on their own. As they get better and better at the specific tasks the degree of prompting can be gradually reduced.

How Prompt Hierarchy Is Used As Part of An ABA Therapy Strategy

With prompt hierarchy, the goal is to think of prompts in terms of how intrusive the prompts are. You can then develop a spectrum of prompts with the least intrusive prompts at the top and the most intrusive prompts, and at the bottom. They can then be broken down further as they are related to specific tasks.

One example of a minimally intrusive verbal prompt would be to use an indirect prompt in the form of an open-ended question like “What should you do next?” This type of less intrusive prompting essentially encourages the child to think for themselves, while still making sure that they know something needs to be done.

Early on it’s best, to begin with minimally intrusive prompts, then move down the hierarchy to more intrusive prompts until your child correctly completes the intended task. As you progress through the prompts it might be necessary to change the prompt from a verbal version to a physical one at a similar degree of intrusiveness. This might be something like a gestural prompt such as pointing or touching an object that needs to be put away.

As your child gets better and better at accomplishing the new skill you can move up the hierarchy to less intrusive prompts with the ultimate goal being the child performing them independently.

What Is Prompt Fading?

The term “Prompt Fading” is used to describe the gradual reduction of prompts needed to let a child truly perform them on their own. This is a strategic process that is scaled to their performance over time. It occurs in tandem with decreased use of prompts and using less intrusive prompts for a specific task.

Developing A Prompt Hierarchy Strategy To Help Your Child Learn

ABA therapists specialize in helping families develop a wide range of strategies to help children with autism learn how to live a happy, productive life. This includes developing a prompting hierarchy customized to the child’s needs and developmental challenges. As you and your child become more adept at using prompts and prompt fading, you will be increasingly capable of helping your child gain more independence.