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Masters of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certification

Prompting - Topic 36

What is it?

A prompt is an antecedent stimulus that strives to evoke the occurrence of a response. Prompts are typically used when naturally occurring stimuli do not produce a desired response independently. They are also described as extra instructions, gestures, or demonstrations that help cue a learner to display specific behavior and/or correct responses. For example, when someone says hello, a natural response is to respond with a corresponding greeting. However, a child with autism may not naturally reciprocate the greeting unless a prompt is delivered. This child’s mother may prompt her child by modeling an appropriate greeting, and then instruct her child say the same greeting.

There are several categories of prompts, with some of the most common being verbal prompts, modeling, manual prompts (i.e., physical contact), gestural prompts, visual cues, and textual prompts. Prompting is an essential part of behavioral therapy, but prompts must be used carefully in order to be effective. The practitioner must understand when and how to use increasing assistance, decreasing assistance, stimulus fading, graduated guidance, and delay procedures (MacDuff, Krantz, & McClannahan, 2001).

Why is it important?

Learners with disabilities experience numerous challenges in regard to acquiring the skills needed to live independently.  Often their repertoire of skills does not evolve as easily as others. Research has shown that in order to develop useful skill-sets, students with disabilities require additional practice and correct repetition of skills. Prompts are one way to help students develop new skills and engage in functional responses. Prompts are a valuable tool when teaching novel and desirable behavior (MacDuff, Krantz, & McClannahan, 2001).

 Prompting also meets the criteria for being deemed an evidence-based practice as it has more than five single-subject design studies that demonstrate its effectiveness in language development, communication, and all academic domains. It has also been shown effective across all three age groups (i.e., preschool, elementary, secondary). Additonally, it has been shown useful with both typically developing individuals as well as students with disabilities (Neitzel & Wolery, 2009).


Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis. (2nd ed.). Upper

Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Pearson.

MacDuff, G. S., Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E.  (2001).  Prompts and prompt-fading strategies

for people with autism. In C. Maurice, G. Green, & R. M. Foxx (Eds.), Making a difference:

Behavioral intervention for autism (37- 50). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.

Neitzel, J., & Wolery, M. (2009). Overview of prompting. Chapel Hill, NC: The National

Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, Frank Porter Graham Child

Development Institute, The University of North Carolina.

Web Links

ABA Autism Training - Prompting

Prompting PowerPoint Presentation

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