Prompt Fading Tips

Prompt Fading Tips

This post was reviewed by Scott Rieger, BCBA.


Prompting is an essential tool for teaching children to perform tasks and provide verbal responses; reducing or fading these instructions is just as important as the prompts themselves. Without prompt fading, children struggle to become independent.

When using prompts to teach, it is important to remember that the instructions we employ are eliciting the responses we are targeting. By systematically fading out prompts, we are gradually teaching children to respond accurately and independently.

In this post, we review prompt fading tips for various types of instruction.


The Prompt Hierarchy

Also known as most-to-least prompt fading, the prompt hierarchy is a process for gradually reducing physical prompts as a child gains proficiency with newly-learned tasks. As you begin reducing physical prompts, each hierarchy level in the progression to full independence is less intrusive than the last.

For example, referencing the handwashing example in our blog post on avoiding prompt dependency, you might start teaching children to wash their hands by:

1. Physically holding their hands (hand over hand) as they go through each step of the process.

2. Once they understand the basics, you may reduce the pressure used in hand-over-hand washing so that they can begin performing some of the queues independently.

3. Then you might shadow your hands over your child’s hand or gently prompt them by lightly touching the wrist or elbow.

4. To fade from physical to model prompting, stand with your child at the sink and perform the action alongside them.


What is Prompt Fading?

Prompt fading is the process of systematically decreasing and eliminating instructions to provide children the opportunity to respond and perform tasks more independently.


Prompt Fading Tips

1. Be consistent. Your child may need to repeat the activity several times before being able to perform the action independently, but stick to your prompt fading efforts.

2. Don’t fade prompts too quickly. Your child may have trouble performing the action accurately if instructions change too soon.

3. Try incorporating a time delay. By waiting longer between prompts, you provide your child extra time to consider and work through the task at hand.

4. Be patient with your child. Let children take the time they need to learn. Encourage them and praise them for the parts of the task they perform correctly.

5. Offer a reward. Rewarding independently-performed tasks is a great way to provide positive reinforcement and encouragement to continue building independence. If a child requires prompts to perform a task, offer a smaller reward than if they were to independently perform the task. Encourage independent responding by providing more or “higher quality” rewards for correct and independent responses.


How to Fade Physical Prompts

Physical prompt fading requires decreasing instruction from:

  1. Fully moving the child’s body for them, to…
  2. Lightly guiding the motion, to…
  3. Using gestures, to…
  4. Shadowing the movements or simply tapping a wrist or elbow (for example) as a prompt.


How to Fade Verbal Prompts

Verbal prompt fading involves decreasing instruction from:

  1. Providing the entire desired response, to…
  2. Saying only part of the intended response, to…
  3. Only prompting with the first sound in the response.


Stimulus Prompting

A stimulus prompt entails modifying a feature or position of a stimulus in order to elicit a targeted response. For example, highlighting the correct button to push, emboldening the font of a targeted word, or using a laser pointer to highlight the targeted item.


How to Fade Stimulus Prompts

If you have changed the form of an item to stand out from the field, gradually alter the form, feature, color, or size of an object back to its “normal” state.

If you have positioned an item in a way that elicits a desired response, gradually return the targeted item to a position in the field that is consistent with other items in the same field.

If you are moving an item (such as holding up two items and subtly moving one item to garner the desired response), gradually reduce the movement of an item that was evoking the targeted response.


If your child is experiencing difficulty learning tasks with faded prompt instruction, feel free to contact us. We are here to help.



Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

Sunny Days

Sunny Days is one of the nation's leading early intervention and autism services providers, serving children with developmental needs in New York, Oklahoma, California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania ,and Delaware. Founded in 1994, it currently has over 2,000 active practitioners. In the past two years, Sunny Days has provided well in excess of 1,000,000 individual sessions. Sunny Days was founded by two healthcare professionals — Joyce Salzberg, LCSW and Donna Maher, RN — whose passion for quality healthcare is core to its mission. 

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