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Masters of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certification

Time Delay - Topic 50

What is it?

Time delay is a stimulus-fading procedure in which the 2 prompts are presented concurrently; over succeeding trials, a teacher gradually delays the prompt in small increments (e.g., 1s) or a fixed duration (e.g., 5s) (Graff, & Green, 2004). There are two types of time delay, constant time delay and progressive time delay. In constant time delay, the initial trials begin with providing a 0-second delay. A teacher using 0-second delay models the correct response after providing the natural cue. Once the student responds correctly, the student receives reinforcement for correct responding. After several successful trials with 0-second delay, the teacher increases the time delay between the task demand and the prompt to a predetermined length (e.g., 4 seconds) (Snell, & Brown, 2011).

With progressive time delay, the time delay between the task request and the prompt after the 0-second delay trials is gradually and systematically extended across time (Demchak, 1990). The teacher may begin with a zero delay then, she/he may increase the time delay interval up to 8 (or more) seconds, where delay remains until the student produces the correct response (Snell, & Brown, 2011).

Why is it important?

Time delay is an effective teaching procedure for individuals with severe disabilities who do best when they make more correct responses and fewer errors in obtaining a new skill. Numerous research studies have shown time delay effective in teaching discrete and chained behaviors across a range of students with disabilities (Snell, & Brown, 2011). In addition, time delay is useful strategy to avoid prompt dependency for students who might become dependent on the teacher’s prompts (Miller, & Test, 1989).


Demchak, M. (1990). Response prompting and fading methods: a review. American Journal on

Mental Retardation, 94, 603-615.

Graff, R. B., & Green, G. (2004). Two methods for teaching simple visual discriminations to learners

with severe disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 25, 295-307.

Miller, U.C., & Test, D. W. (1989). A comparison of constant time delay and most-to-least prompting

in teaching laundry skills to students with moderate retardation. Education and Training in

Mental Retardation, 24, 363-370.

Snell, M. E., & Brown, F. (2011) Instruction of Students with Severe Disabilities (7th ed.) Upper

Saddle River, New Jersey: Merill/Pearson.

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