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Common Prompts Used by Professionals to Teach Children with Autism

The wide selection of prompts can accommodate the different learning styles and abilities of learners.

As professionals, parents, and caregivers providing support for individuals with autism, you might have heard of the term ‘prompt’ many times. Do you know about the various types of prompts used? This article will touch on the definition, importance and the common types of prompts.

What are prompts and why are they used?

To begin, prompts are cues (in the form of instructions, gestures, demonstrations, touches, etc.) that we use to increase the likelihood of a child to make a correct response. Do remember that prompts should, if possible, be given before the desired behaviour or response. To put it simply, prompts are a kind of assistance provided by a professional or caregiver to encourage a desired behaviour from the child after instructions are given.

Prompts are extensively used in behaviour shaping and skill acquisition. They are especially useful when a child is new to a task or has not fully comprehended the set of instructions given to them. A prompted success can still be rewarded in the early stages of learning, so as to help them understand that the response is the desired one. However, this should be faded as soon as possible, and the child should be allowed the opportunity to try it on his own! If a child is able to complete a task or apply a skill independently, prompts are not required and should not be used. On the other hand, note that if they are only able to complete a task with prompts, it is not considered a learned, independent skill.

Prompting helps increase the probability of a successful or correct response, which elicits positive reinforcement, and hence, reinforces the child’s learning. Additionally, by showing learners that they are continually making progress, it helps reduce their stress and make learning a more positive experience for them.

Types of prompts

There are many variations of prompts. This article will introduce 5 types that are most commonly used. Pictures of examples will be provided for your reference.

1. Physical prompt

This involves physically guiding the learner's hands to complete the task. This can be done fully (hand-over-hand assistance) or partially (some assistance to guide, not as intrusive as full physical prompt).

2. Gestural prompt

Usually involves using a gesture or any actions the learner can observe the adult doing. Some examples include pointing, nodding, etc. These gestures provide the learner with information about the correct response.

3. Verbal prompt

A verbal prompt involves telling the learner the answer or giving a verbal cue, such as the beginning sound of the answer.

4. Visual prompt

A visual prompt can be a picture or cue that the learner sees, which provides information about the correct answer. Examples include videos, photos, flash cards, or visual schedules.

5. Written prompt

Written prompts can come in the form of a list or some other type of written instruction. For example, the parent tells the child to finish his chores. He or she can prompt the child by presenting them with a written checklist of said chores.

The wide selection of prompts can accommodate the different learning styles and abilities of learners. For example, a child who excels in reading will benefit from written prompts more than a child who is a beginner in reading. Alternatively, an individual who is visually impaired can be assisted instead with physical prompts.

There is much to mention and learn about prompts – How much we prompt, hierarchy of prompts, how to eventually fade prompts away, etc. This article provided a simple introduction to prompts and focused mainly on the common types you might encounter – physical, gestural, verbal, visual and written. Keep a lookout for our future articles and drop us a comment if you have any enquiries.

Written by Winnie.


How to ABA. (2017). The prompt hierarchy. Retrieved from

University of Nebraska-Lincolm. (n.d.). Prompting. Retrieved from

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