Last month, I related the practice of effective prompting to ‘leading a dance’. When you are dancing with a strong lead, you (typically) really enjoy the dance, led seemingly subtly, into a successful dancing experience. I want to re-iterate this point. The use of prompting can easily fall into the category of over or under prompting and can seem to lead to frustration or overreliance. Prompting requires a purposeful and cognizant approach to be both respectful and successful. Part of this, is knowing how and when to fade a prompt, which I will cover in this article as well. Fading the prompt is one key element in the usage of this evidence-based practice.
So how can we do this? What more can we learn beyond last months’ information on the five types of prompts and the uses for it? (In case you missed it, we highlighted these types of prompts: visual, verbal, gestural, modelling and gestural.)
When a person is practicing a mastered skill, one should be using “least to most” levels of prompting as needed. Do not over prompt (even though it is very tempting and may feel natural/supportive). For example, if someone is used to making their own breakfast, they may only need a gesture to remember to set the timer. If a small verbal reminder will help them to turn off a burner, that is more acceptable than repeatedly modelling or giving full physical supports like hand over hand when they are capable of completing the task. If no prompts are needed, do not provide one for the sake of providing it or because that is “just what we do”. For example, I hadn’t noticed that I was continually running my finger under the words as my son read them until he let me know that he does not need that at all and can now read without that prompt/support. He had outgrown it and I did not notice.
Alternatively, when a person is learning a brand new skill, then the “most to least” level of prompting is recommended. Give the person as many supports as needed initially when learning something new so that they can experience full success and have a decrease in possible anxiety when facing something new. Providing enough support at the beginning of learning a new skill or task will increase feeling of success and they may be more likely to try the new skill or behavior the next time. For example, if starting a new job, the person may need specific training on how to set up their work area. A co-worker could walk them through it as opposed to giving the information verbally once.
One type of prompt that I used a lot as both a parent and classroom teacher was musical prompting. This is close to verbal prompting but more fun, less intrusive, and tailored to their favorite genre of music/favorite songs, etc. For example, having a certain song playing to indicate that it is time to get dressed for school or ready for work is much nicer (for everyone) than verbal prompting (sometimes can be ‘nagging’…). Different songs can mean different things or ways to transition from one activity to another.
As much as prompt usage can be key, fading the prompt properly and in a timely manner can also be a key factor in increasing independence and ability. We need to look for opportunities to fade a prompt to less intrusive to none at all if possible. This can be difficult as we may feel the prompt is the key to success, avoids a meltdown, or we don’t want to give it up for another reason. For example, I had made this effective visual for my kiddo that helped him to answer the door and greet our guests successfully. I was actually really proud of it and it worked! I was hesitant to take it down though even when he could successfully do the task on his own. We need to ensure that we are evaluating if we are not fading the prompts quickly enough or even at all!
We use this evidence-based practice naturally and is second nature to most of us most of the time. I am simply highlighting a need to examine the levels of prompting we are providing and see if there are ways to use them, fade them, and ultimately build more independence and self-advocacy skills. Maybe this article will ‘prompt’ you to think about it!
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Carmen has been published in a variety of online and print articles. Writing is a passion and she strives to grow and share her message.