A prompt can be defined as a cue or hint meant to induce a person to perform a desired behavior.  A fancy way of saying this is: An antecedent that induces a person to perform a behavior that otherwise does not occur.  

Lots of antecedents (what happens immediately before behavior) affect the likelihood of a behavior occurring.  If someone says “Dinner time” and you are hungry, you are more likely to sit at the kitchen table than you would have before the announcement.  Such natural antecedents are not normally considered prompts.  A prompt is an antecedent that is provided when the ordinary antecedent is ineffective.


Prompting: means inducing the person to perform a desired behavior by presenting a prompt.  Prompts are like crutches; they’re a kind of artificial support.  When you greet someone with “hello”, you expect to get a response; you don’t expect to have to follow your greeting with some hint about what the other person should say, such as “Now, say ‘hi’ back”.  So, while prompts are a useful tool in teaching, it’s important to wean your child off them very quickly.

Fading: You can wean your child off prompts by fading which is simply gradually reducing the strength of the prompt.  Using the example “point to block”, you might gently touch the child’s elbow to induce him/her to point to the block, rather than using an HOH prompt.

To fade a verbal prompt, you might say:

1.       “What is it? Say, block”

2.       Then fade to “What is it? Say b…”

3.       Fading further to, “What is it? Say…”

4.       Fading further to, “What is it?” which is a much more natural way of eliciting a response.

Prompting and fading are widely used to build new skills (whether consciously or not) by teachers and parents alike.  If I am learning a challenging new programming skill, I will write it down in detail using an example.  I will refer to this constantly the first few times I try out the new skill, but eventually will no longer need it.  A problem arises if I use the skill infrequently, then I have to keep my notes on hand and refer back to every time I perform the task.  This is no different for children with ASD and a good example of why we teach basic skills in mass trials.  This illustrates why generalization is so essential.  If you cannot provide excuses for your child to use his/her mastered skills over and over again, the skill will get rusty.

Prompting and fading can and should be used in everyday activities; you don’t have to have a full-blown IBI program in place to use these tools.  You can use this to teach table manners, pick up belongings, and even appropriate playground play!


1.       Define target behavior.  We begin by defining exactly what behavior we want to change.  In this case it means defining the behavior we want to prompt.

2.       Identify suitable prompts.  Choose a prompt that will reliably produce this behavior.

3.       Prompt, reinforce and fade. The reason for prompting behavior is so that you can reinforce it.  Reinforcement provides the motivation for the child to learn.  Since the object of prompting is to get the behavior to appear so that you can reinforce it, it’s important to give the child time to respond.  After presenting the prompt, you wait a few seconds before prompting again.  The reason for waiting for the few seconds is to see whether the child will attempt a correct response thus letting you know what prompt level to use.  As the target behavior appears, begin to fade the prompt.

4.       Monitor results.  This is essential to know you are progressing satisfactorily. 


Generally, when we are starting to teach a new skill, we would use most to least prompting. It’s important, however, to use the least amount of prompting in any situation.  Using the “give me block” idea, let’s look at levels of prompting:

(1 = most or strongest, 5 least or weakest)

  1. Full Physical (HOH)
  2. Partial Physical (touching elbow to guide child to the block)
  3. Modeling (demonstrating picking up the block – used when teaching imitation skills)
  4. Gestural
  5. Positional

Mediator delivers the request or Discriminative Stimulus aka Sd “Give me block”, waits a few seconds for the child to respond, then uses an HOH (#1) to elicit correct response.  After going through a few trials, the mediator fades to a #2, touching the child’s elbow and continues teaching.  Within a few sessions your prompts should be faded.

When taking data on teaching a skill, it is often helpful to record the prompt level.  All mediators should be aware of what prompt level your child is on and all should be on that level. 


Least to most prompting is used once a skill is learned.  If you continue to use high levels of prompts throughout teaching, your child may appear to be learning, but instead might be prompt dependent.


This is an area where verbal prompting can really come into play.  To teach your child to hang up his coat and take off his shoes when he comes indoors, you might verbally feed him each step.  “Now, Johnny, take one arm out of the sleeve, now the next, go to the hook, hang up your coat!  Now, untie your shoe lace….”

See how unnatural that sounds?  A typically developing child generally executes all those steps without even thinking about them and certainly without our verbal prompting.  A way to teach this more naturally could be to start them off using an HOH prompt and fading very quickly.

*A note on verbal prompts (giving verbal instructions) – note: Verbal instructions given at the start of the trial are called Discriminative Stimulus or Sd and are not considered a prompt when marking scores during data taking. 

Summary of Prompts

Type of Prompt



Full Physical Assistance (Full), also known as Hand-Over-Hand or HOH

Child requires physical assistance to complete a task. The mediator will "hand-over-hand" the child to ensure a correct response.

When teaching the child to pick up a block, the mediator will take the child’s hand and guide them to pick it up.

Partial Physical Assistance (Part)

Child requires partial physical assistance to complete a task.

When teaching the child to pick up the block, the mediator guides the child’s hand to the block by the elbow, in order to gently ‘nudge’ the child into executing the skill correctly.

Full Model (FM)

Mediator models what the desired response of the child is.

When teaching the receptive instruction "clap" the mediator claps while he/she is telling the child to clap.

Partial Model (PM)

Mediator models only part of the response that is desired from the child.

When teaching the receptive instruction "clap" the mediator puts his/her hands in front of her/himself, but does not actually clap.

Full Verbal Model (FVM)

Mediator verbally models what the desired response of the child is.

When teaching the expressive label "cup" the mediator asks, "What is it? Say cup."

Partial Verbal Model (PVM)

Mediator verbally models only part of the desired response of the child.

When teaching the expressive label "cup" the mediator asks, "What is it? Say c....".

Gesture (G)

Mediator makes some kind of gesture to prompt the desired response of the child.

When teaching the function of an object the mediator says, "What do you drink with?" while holding his/her hand to his/her mouth shaping it like a cup.


Mediator places a stimulus in a particular location.

When teaching the receptive label "shoe" the mediator places the shoe closest to the child.

Point (P)

Mediator points

When teaching the receptive label "shoe" the mediator points to the shoe.


Arrangements of the physical environment that induce the desired behavior. 

An example of this might be a communication board or a PECS binder. 

August 12, 2002

(c) BBB Autism – June 2002


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