Prompting is a wonderful tool in applied behavioral analyses therapy (ABA) and probably the reason some children learn to communicate at all. This simple way of moving a child through the motions of an action/response so he/she can see the consequence is so powerful yet so simple. It really answers the question, how do you teach a child that can’t understand language intuitively, what you are asking of them?

My son was completely non-verbal until his speech therapist used hand-over-hand prompting to show signs and slowly weaned him through the process of prompting until he could mand (request things) for himself.

Here is a list showing some most invasive to the least invasive prompting.

Most invasive: Full Physical Prompting

This is when your therapist will essentially use your child’s hands to carry out a request. For instance, she/he may say, ‘pick up your toys,’ then take the child’s hands and close them around the toy, guiding it to the toy box.

Next Invasive: Partial Physical Prompting

In this case the therapist will put the child’s hand onto the toy to show them what she means and wait to see if the child carries out the rest of the direction. Normally this is the first step taken once the child has mastered full physical prompting.

Next Invasive: Modeling

The therapist will act out what she wants the child to do. For instance, she will pick up the toy and put it in the box after asking them to do it and wait to see the child’s response.

Next Invasive: Gestural

Where the therapist will point at the toy and the toy box to gesture to the child what is needed of them.

Next Invasive: Positional Prompt

The therapist places the object close to your child and tells them to clean it up.

Least Invasive: Simple Direction

The therapist will simply ask your child to clean up their toys and expect that they will do it without further help.

When we move down this chart the child slowly learns what is expected of them, or basically, what you’re asking them to do! Much of the time, just telling them what to do and showing them won’t work for an autistic child. Going from most invasive to least invasive (depending on the specific skill set of your child and what they are asked to do) teaches them in a way that they will actually understand. It’s so simple and effective but works beautifully.