How to Promote Independence in Your Child with Prompting

How to Promote Independence in Your Child with Prompting

Prompting is another strategy used in both ABA therapy and discrete trial training (DTT) for teaching new skills with simplified and structured steps. In other words, using prompts, new skills are taught one step at a time, before combining the steps to complete the whole skill. 

Prompting is one of the most important aspects of teaching new skills to children with autism. However, it is also one of the most difficult strategies for parents to implement and use at home consistently and correctly. 

This post is part of a 13 part series. Each post in the series will explain an evidence-based strategy used by professionals for managing behavior with children on the autism spectrum. Each part of this series will contain a table of contents so you can easily navigate to the different strategies.

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction 
  2. Strategy 1: Build a Relationship
  3. Strategy 2: Individualize Motivation
  4. Strategy 3: Observe, Listen, then Join
  5. Strategy 4: Optimize Language
  6. Strategy 5: The Premack Principal
  7. Strategy 6: Basic Redirect
  8. Strategy 7: Breaks
  9. Strategy 8: Picture Rehearsal
  10. Strategy 9: Add Structure at Home
  11. Strategy 10: Teach Independence with Prompting
  12. Strategy 11: Transactional Supports
  13. Strategy 12: Add Structure to the Learning Environment 

What is a Prompt?

A prompt is something that is done immediately after giving the instruction to help the child perform the task correctly.

It helps clarify the expectations you have, and ensures your child experiences success – this is very important when your child is trying something new. Practicing something in error can impede learning it correctly long term.

Prompts help children build motor memory and develop motor plans for completing tasks and activities. The goal is to fade out the prompts until your child can do the task independently.

How to Use a Prompting Hierarchy to Teach Kids to Do Tasks Independently - #ChildhoodDevelopment #Prompting #ABA #Autism #ADHDKids #AdviceForMoms

Types of Prompts:

There are many different types of prompts. Which type of prompt you choose for your child will depend on their current abilities – you want to provide enough support for your child to be successful but you do not want to do something for your child that they can do on their own.

You can look to the prompting hierarchy when deciding what level of support you should provide your child with so they can successfully perform a task.

The Prompting Hierarchy is defined by the amount of assistance the child needs to complete the task successfully. 

Note, this diagram is an example of a simple prompting hierarchy. There are other forms of prompting that are not included in this example. The prompts covered here are the most commonly used.

Remember, it’s important to fade out prompts as soon as possible to prevent your child from becoming dependant on the prompt in order to complete the task.

Physical Prompting

Full Physical Prompting (HOH) – HOH stands for “Hand Over Hand”

This type of prompting requires you to provide physical guidance to the child to complete the task. You do this by fully moving your child’s body while they complete the task successfully.

Basically, you would literally put your hand over the top of their hand and guide them. But make sure you aren’t holding the object yourself at all. It should still be in your child’s hand, you’re just guiding them with where to move it.

HOH may be used for things like teaching the child how to use scissors, hold a pencil, and other tasks like brushing teeth or using a fork/spoon, making a sandwich, sorting shapes, etc.

Some children don’t need to begin with a full physical prompt like HOH. Choosing prompts depends on the individual and you should always begin with the least restrictive prompt required for your child to complete the task successfully. 

Partial Physical Prompting

Like the full physical prompt, during partial physical prompting you will help your child complete a task by assisting their body movements required to do what is expected.

But, this time your child has some control of their body movements as well. For example, you would guide your child by their elbows rather than having your hand directly over theirs.

When you’re using a partial physical prompt you can let your child take the lead in moving their body. However, it’s important that they avoid making any errors because the goal is to develop motor memory in completing the task. So, you should redirect their hand/body using the partial physical at the very first sign of making a mistake. 


Modeling involves you demonstrating the correct responses or way to complete the task. During modeling, you would both verbally and physically demonstrate what you want your child to do.

In order to use this form of prompting, your child must be able to successfully imitate others. Strategy 8 covers various ways of teaching imitation to help you with this.

During modeling, you would state the task, for example, “put away your toys” and then pick up one of the toys and put it away. Then have your child begin putting toys away.

If necessary, you can also add in a partial or full physical prompt during any of the steps involved. Such as if your child started to do it incorrectly, but the goal is to use the least intrusive prompt possible. For example, after modeling you may, if required guide your child’s body in picking up a toy and putting it in the bin. 

Verbal Prompts

There are two basic types of verbal prompts/

Direct Verbal Prompt – This is explicitly telling your child what to do, for example, “Pick up your toys”

Indirect Verbal Prompt – Verbally point out relevant information which will act as a cue for your child to complete the task for example: “I see your toys laying on the floor”

Children can become dependent on verbal prompts, not doing any task/chore without being told first. It’s difficult to fade out verbal prompts – so only use them when you need to.

Gestural Prompts

Gestural prompts give your child a cue to use a skill through the use of gestures.

It could include gestures such as:

  • Pointing in the correct direction
  • Tapping the required materials
  • Looking at the correct materials
  • Tapping the child’s hand
  • Pointing to the correct answer

Positional Prompt

This type of prompting isn’t included in the prompting hierarchy example above. However,  positional prompts can be extremely helpful as your child works towards independence. This strategy involves placing objects in a position that will help your child be successful on their own

For example: Placing your child’s toothbrush and toothpaste on the bathroom counter beside the sink so they will remember to brush their teeth.  Another example could be hanging their bookbag beside the front door so they remember on their own to take it with them to school. 

Visual Prompts

You can always have visual prompts in place and these do not need to be faded. They can remain as a guide for your child and may be used as a larger visual support system.

Visual prompts may include a daily visual schedule, as well as other visual prompts as reminders such as task strips, or a “stop” sign by the door.

Various forms of visual prompting are covered in bother Strategy 8 – Picture Rehearsal and Strategy 9 – Structuring The Home

Prompt Fading

Keep your end goal in mind as you begin prompt fading – independence.

As you begin fading out prompts, know your child’s processing time and from there begin increasing the time delay before prompting. (Note: If you delay the prompt, does your child begin the task on their own – therefore not needing the prompt?)

Keep prompts to an absolute minimum, especially for functional routines and skills – these are things that ultimately you want your child to achieve independence doing – like personal hygiene tasks, chores, preparing food, etc.

Note – children need to be developmentally ready to learn these skills as well – if your child is only young they won’t be developmentally ready to be taught certain skills without parental help. However, when it’s possible you should always have your child perform a task them self if they are physically and cognitively capable.

Continue to: Strategy 11 – Transactional Support

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