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Updated: Mar 1, 2023

When teaching children new skills, it is not unusual that they will initially require some support in the form of prompts and cues. Prompts can prove to be very effective to help reduce frustration, can ensure progress towards targeted goals, and provide support with difficult tasks to make the learning process easier. To learn more about the different types of prompts that are commonly used when teaching children, be sure to check out my previous blog, “A Guide for Using Prompts when Teaching Individuals with Special Needs."

It is important however that when using prompts that we systematically fade them as soon as possible to prevent the child from becoming overly reliant on those prompts as this can lead to prompt dependence and impede skill acquisition as well as independence. A plan for fading prompts should be established at the onset of instruction.

There are few different ways to fade the prompts that we use in our teaching. The way in which we choose to fade our prompts will be dependent on the prompt procedure we are using, that best fits the learning and the task that we are teaching.

Often when teaching a child to talk, we might use a model prompt. Meaning, we model the word that we want the child to say and then wait for the child to repeat the word that we modeled. While this can be a very effective strategy, there are times that children get stuck at this level and struggle to say words in the absence of these models. This is where prompt fading comes into play.

One way to fade our model prompts is to use time delay. Below is an example of how to fade model prompts using time delay.

Child: Reaches for cookie

Adult: Says, “Cookie”

Child: Repeats the word, “Cookie”

Adult: Waits while saying nothing (TIME DELAY)

*Child: Says, “Cookie”

Adult: Says, “Want cookie” while simultaneously hands the child the cookie

*When the child says, “cookie” the second time in the absence of the adult’s model, this is considered a more independent response which is exactly what we are looking for.

This technique can be used with single words that the adult models, or with phrases. If the adult models the word and the child does not say, anything, the adult can model the word again (up to 3 times). If the child does not imitate the word modeled by the adult, the adult should still offer the cookie.

Here is an example for you to follow:

Child: Reaches for a cookie

Adult: Says, “Cookie”

Child: Does not say anything, but continues to reach for the cookie

Adult: Says, “Cookie”

Child: Repeats the word, “Cookie”

Adult: Waits while saying nothing (TIME DELAY)

Child: Says, “Cookie”

Adult: Says, “Want cookie” while simultaneously handing the child the cookie

In this example, the child required two models prior to imitating the word “cookie”. For some children they may even need more word models. As a rule, I usually recommend not pushing beyond more than three opportunities for the child to repeat the target word as you don’t want to cause frustration.

With consistency the child will typically require less models from the adult as they will learn that the quicker, they say the target word, the quicker they get the item that they want.

If you are looking for other strategies to use to help with your child’s communication skills, be sure to check out some of my previous blogs “5 Tips for Parents of Young Children Who Are Not Yet Talking”, or “Communication Temptations: How & Why”.

What prompts are cues do you use when teaching your child? How have you been successfully able to fade those prompts? Tell me in the comments below.


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