Prompting your child is a great initial step for learning skills and activities. For instance, when your child is learning to wash their hands, it’s natural to teach & prompt each step. Walk to the bathroom, turn on the water, apply soap, scrub your hands, etc. Then, when another adult asks them to wash their hands, they walk to the bathroom and just stand at the sink. You may even see them searching for a prompt. Does this sound familiar?
This could be happening because the child has become reliant on being prompted. Prompt dependency means that the child needs to be told what to do or for someone else to do the task for them. The child knows what to do, but needs to be reminded. Ultimately, the child needs to be told or shown what to do in order to react. We strive for every child to be able to do tasks independently. A child that relies on being prompted has fewer chances to do things on their own.
5 Tips To Avoid Prompt Dependency
1. Think about WHEN prompts are being given.
A prompt is something that causes a response. It could be physical, verbal, or gestural. Usually, people don’t realize that they’re using prompts. The first thing to do is to be aware of when you’re using one.
2. Fade prompts quickly.
Once the prompt has been established, begin to fade it as soon as possible. For physical prompts, start to use a faded physical prompt, which could look like holding the child by their forearms, elbows, or shoulders instead of their hands when washing.
For verbal prompts, start to use a faded verbal prompt, such as telling the child part of what they need to say instead of giving them the full sentence to repeat. For example, instead of expecting the child to say “I want ___,” you might just say “I,” prompting the child to say the full sentence.
3. Use less intrusive prompting.
Let’s return to the example of handwashing. Rather than relying on verbal directions (telling the child what to do) or physical prompting (using a hand-over-hand technique), try using a visual schedule. This schedule will illustrate the steps involved in the task, allowing the child to gain more independence by no longer needing verbal instructions from the parent. This can be written out or shown by photos of the action.
4. Give verbal prompts when you are looking for a verbal response.
If you want to avoid prompt dependency, it is important not to use verbal prompts when they are not necessary. For example, when washing hands, the verbal prompt “turn on the water” should not be used, as we are looking for the child to take action, not say something. Instead, use visuals, gestures, and faded physical prompts to encourage the desired behavior. Over-prompting can lead to prompt dependency, so use them sparingly.
5. Create practice opportunities.
As parents, we often have a good sense of our children and can be quick to do things for them. Before taking action, though, it’s important to take a step back and provide some guidance or prompts. Doing the task for your kid might save you time or keep you from having to clean up a big mess, but it’s important to remember that the goal is to foster independence. To achieve this, it is important to be aware of how often you are prompting and to eventually fade these prompts so that your child has more chances to become independent.
At Solstice Behavioral Health & Consulting, our specialists create a play-based, fun environment with a commitment to progress. ABA therapy at Solstice BHC can help children develop communication skills, social skills, and living skills. We specialize in helping children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) reach their full potential! Find out more by visiting our center or calling (203) 900-4720.