CITY OF TORONTO | EARLY CHILDHOOD SERVICES TEAM: COMMUNITY LIVING TORONTO | SURREY PLACE CENTRE
Prompting And Fading
Prompting and fading are two important teaching 1. Full Physical – hand-over-hand
techniques that can (and should) be used in every- 2. Partial Physical – touching the child’s elbow,
day activities such as tidying up after play, learning wrist, shoulder etc. to prompt movement
self-help skills like brushing teeth, and appropriate
social skills in the playground. 3. Modeling – demonstrating the action or skill
desired and tapping into the child’s imitation skills
What do the terms mean?
4. Gestural – pointing, nodding, or gazing at an
A Prompt is a cue or hint meant to help a child item to provide a cue as to the action wanted
to perform a desired behaviour, skill, or part of a
skill. Prompts can be as permanent as stop signs 5. Positional - either placing the child where
that signal our need to decelerate our car, to gradu- learned cues in the environment prompt the behav-
ally fading prompts such as reducing the amount iour (e.g., placing the child in front of the wash-
of hand over hand assistance used to teach a child room door to prompt using the toilet) OR
to cut with a pair of scissors. PROMPTING just - positioning an item related to the skill in view of
means “using prompts”. the child to prompt action (e.g., bringing shoes over
to the child may prompt him to go to his cubby to
Like crutches for a person with a broken ankle, begin dressing to go home).
prompts serve only to support the child while de-
veloping the new skill. Weaning a child off prompts When teaching a new skill you will use the MOST
quickly will ensure that the skill will develop AMOUNT OF PROMPTING NEEDED to ensure
and that the child will not become dependent on learning the steps of the skill. If the skill is new to
the “crutch”. This is FADING. It is a process of the child, you may need to provide full physical
gradually reducing the need, strength or level of the assistance initially to get the job done. If the child
prompt. Using the example “tying shoe laces”, you can do part of the task already or uses a similar
might gently touch the child’s wrist to encourage skill, you may find a visual prompt, such as the
him to pull the lace loops apart to create the knot picture of the next step, is enough to teach the step.
(rather than using a higher degree of assistance Helping too much can sometimes be a problem. It
such as hand-over-hand assistance). is important to find the right balance.
The prompts (cues and assistance) given to help How do you get started using
a child do all, or part of, a new skill range from prompting and fading?
the strongest and hardest to fade (get rid of) to the
weakest and easiest to get rid of. There are five simple steps to remember:
The following is a guide to the different levels 1. Define target behaviour (action, skill, or partial
and types of support or prompts that can be steps). Through TASK ANALYSIS, the steps to
used to teach new skills. performing a skill to be taught are determined.
1 (most or strongest) – 5 (least or weakest) 2. Identify suitable prompts. Go through the
Supported Inclusion - Tip Sheet page 1 of 2
Prompting And Fading, continued
steps of the task analysis with the child and deter- instruct the child on that skill.
mine the most amount of prompting (cues, assis- 5. Return to a stronger prompt when neces-
tance) needed to get through each step. It may be sary. Sometimes you might think that a step has
that different steps of the skill need different levels been learned and then discover the next day that
of prompting. Prompts will change as the child the child is struggling. At these times, it is OK
begins to learn the steps. to give a previous, stronger level of prompting
until the child is showing that she can do that step
3. Prompt, reinforce, and fade. The reason for proficiently again. Remember to quickly move to a
prompting behaviour is so that you can reinforce it lesser prompt as soon as possible.
using praise or any other reward that will motivate
learning. Give the child time to respond. Unless It sometimes takes a little practice to feel comfort-
you are using direct hand-over-hand assistance, able using these techniques, but making prompting
after presenting a lesser prompt (e.g., Modeling), and fading part of your daily teaching toolkit is a
it is best to wait a few seconds before prompting useful way to help all children learn new skills.
again. The reason for waiting is to see whether the
child will attempt a correct response. That will let
you know what prompt level to use. As the child
begins to demonstrate the action you want, begin
to fade the prompt by being less “hands on” with
your assistance and provide more subtle cues such
as gestures, etc.
4. Monitor results. This is essential to know if
you are progressing satisfactorily. Keep a log of
which prompts are being used at each step of the
task analysis so that you don’t accidentally provide
too little or too much prompting the next time you
For more information:
• Read about more teaching techniques like Task Analysis and Shaping and Chaining Behaviour.
• Visit our workshops on Reinforcement and our two part series on Understanding and Changing Behaviour
- Why does he do that? and Planning for Change.
Supported Inclusion - Tip Sheet page 2 of 2