5 Tips to Fade Prompts in Special Education
How to fade prompts in special education

I want to share 5 easy tips on how to effectively fade prompts so students do not become prompt-dependent. 

The goal of a prompt is to be only temporary.  The prompt is there to help your students be as independent as possible.  

Therefore, using the prompt hierarchy is key to getting teachers and paraprofessionals on the same page.  If you need more information on the prompt hierarchy, you can read that HERE!

1. Make a Plan!

When you first start you want to make sure that you plan ahead and make sure to train your staff.  This is a group effort and cannot be done alone. Work as a team.  Trying to fade prompts can be daunting, but if you have a plan, it can be easy!

2.  Take Accurate Data

Taking data is vitally important for avoiding prompt dependence.  You want to make sure that you are setting criteria ahead of time and make sure that you're taking accurate data.  It will depend on the student and the task for what the criteria will be.  Maybe you want Johnny to have 4 consecutive days with each prompt level before moving up the prompt hierarchy. 

In other words, when you are taking accurate data and you see the student starting to make errors with that level of prompting, just go back one prompt level.  The data will show if you fade the prompts too quickly.

picture of the prompt hierarchy

3.  Most-to-Least (MTL) Prompt Fading 

When you are using this strategy, you will be using the most intrusive form of prompting on the prompt hierarchy and then gradually fade into the less intrusive prompt. This is where your errorless learning will come in. You are using full-physical prompting to reduce the chance that the student will have errors. 

Let's look at Mrs. Smith's example:

Mrs. Smith is teaching Johnny to wash his hands after using the bathroom using Most-to-Least prompting.  

Mrs. Smith says, “wash your hands,” after Johnny had gone to the bathroom. 

For 4 days in a row, Mrs. Smith will help Johnny using full-physical, hand-over-hand prompting.  She helps him with every step, never taking her hands off Johnny.

Then, for 4 more days, Mrs. Smith uses partial-physical prompting, by just tapping his elbow to get him to wash his hands. 

Next, Mrs. Smith will model how to wash her own hands before Johnny does.  She will do this for another 4 days.

For the next 4 days, Mrs. Smith uses a visual cue using a visual schedule of hand washing that she can just point to during each step of the handwashing.

Then, Mrs. Smith will start using a verbal prompt.  Mrs. Smith will say, “wash your hands,” and will do this for the next 4 days. 

After 4 days of verbally prompting Johnny to wash his hands after using the bathroom, Johnny should be able to use a natural cue of washing his hands after toileting.  This is independence.

Above all, if the student makes an error, please go back a level. 

4. Least-to Most (LTM) Prompt Fading

Then using this strategy, you start with the least intrusive prompting and move down the hierarchy.  This strategy can be very beneficial because it gives students the opportunity to be independent and you are there to only provide prompting as needed.  However, this strategy leaves a lot of room for errors.  Students can often get stuck doing incorrect things. Make sure that you are allowing enough wait time when using this strategy.

Let's look at Mr. Holly's example:

Mr. Holly is teaching Susie to eat with a spoon during lunch using Least-to-Most prompting.  

Mr. Holly places the applesauce and spoon on the table in front of Susie.  

When Susie does nothing, Mr. Holly says, “Use your spoon to eat your applesauce!” (Direct Verbal Prompt)

Susie still doesn't respond, so Mr. Holly models how to do it by picking up the spoon and bringing it to his own mouth. 

Susie still does not respond, so Mr. Smith uses partial-physical prompting by tapping her elbow or moving her hand toward the spoon, but he does NOT do the entire task hand over hand yet. 

When Susie is still not responding, Mr. Holly will then use full-physical prompting (hand-over-hand) to fully support Susie in grasping the spoon, scooping the food, and bringing the food to her mouth.

If at any point, Susie does respond, Mr. Holly would give her lots of praise and a goldfish (her favorite).

Maybe the next day, Mr. Holly did the same thing at lunch, but this time, Susie responded at the direct verbal prompt.  Soon Susie will only need the natural cue of having the spoon in front of her to eat her applesauce.

5. Using Time Delay to Fade Prompts

One effective way of fading prompts is by using a time delay.  This puts a set amount of time from the teaching cue and the prompts that we are giving the student. You can start with a one-second, two-second, or even three-second time delay.  Just make sure to increase the time as you go on.

Let's look at Sarah's example:

Teacher puts 3 pictures in front of Sarah. Teacher says, “touch cow” and at the same time, the teacher touches the cow. (modeling prompt and 0-second time delay)

Student then copies the teacher and touches “cow”.

Teacher puts 3 pictures in front of Sarah. Teacher says, “touch cow” and waits 2 seconds before giving the prompt of touching the cow. (modeling prompt and 2-second time delay)

Teacher puts 3 pictures in front of Sarah.  Teacher says, “touch cow” and Sarah touches the cow before the prompt is given.  Teacher praises Sarah and gives a reinforcer. 

Here is where you can start a 4 second time delay, however, if the student does not respond in the 4 seconds, you must move back to the 2-second time delay.

In addition, make sure that you are taking accurate data on all of this. Time delay works really well with verbal prompts. 

Pro Tip:

Students need to be developmentally ready to learn these skills.  If your student is too young they won’t be developmentally ready to be taught certain skills without adult intervention even using the prompt hierarchy!

I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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