Prompting in ABA

Guest Authored By Elizabeth L-M, RBT

In any learning setting, prompts are used as gentle reminders of what is expected from a learner. Prompts appear in a variety of topographies in an even broader array of environments. That to-do list you made for yourself the other day? It’s an example of a textual prompt! Training a new coworker and showing them how to fill out a form? A model prompt! Both of these prompts are also commonly used in ABA; in addition to many more! Understanding the different types of prompting and their effective scopes of implementation can make sure that we’re teaching our learners using the most effective guidance strategies. 

Physical prompting 

In ABA, physical prompts are most commonly used when teaching tasks that require either gross or fine motor skills. Physical prompting can present either as full-physical or partial-physical. Full-physical entails hand-over-hand guidance for the learner to complete the task in total. This is also considered a more intrusive prompt because the learner is relying entirely on the instructor to assist in the completion of the task. A less intrusive physical prompt would be partial-physical, which can manifest as gentle taps on body parts associated with completing the given task. For example, when teaching a child to tie their own shoes, a partial-physical prompt could appear as a tap to the hand hold the lace required to complete the next step of the sequence. 

Verbal prompting  

Similarly to physical prompts, verbal prompts manifest in a variety of topographies. They could appear as full-verbal prompts requiring a child to echo what was said, or partial-verbal prompts. Partial-verbal prompting can manifest as verbal cues (i.e., the first syllable of a word or the letter sound of the first letter in the word). Verbal prompting can be used in a variety of expressive language programs, from reading to intraverbals to basic object labeling. 

Gestural prompting 

Gestural prompts is an umbrella terms for a wide variety of prompting methods. We often engage in gestural prompting in our everyday life! Can’t reach something on the top shelf of the grocery store? Pointing at the desired object to inform a store clerk of what you need is a great example of a gestural prompt. Even subtle gestures such as eye contact are encapsulated by the overarching idea of gestural prompts. Gazing at the dessert at the table next to you when dining in a restaurant can function as a gestural prompt for your partner to ask for the dessert menu! Gestural prompts are a less intrusive way for us to remind our learner of what is expected of them. Pointing to a toothbrush is a gestural prompt to remind them to make sure to brush their teeth.  

Visual prompting  

Using visuals is a great way to teach or maintain skills without requiring more invasive prompting methods. Visual prompting is usually displayed as schedules, “First, then” boards, and social stories in ABA. They are gentle reminders to our learners about how to respond in various situations and help them arrange the tasks that are expected of them.

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