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 MODULE: Prompting

Overview of Prompting

Prompting procedures include any help given to learners with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that assist them in using a specific skill. Prompts are generally given by an adult or peer before or as a learner attempts to use a skill. Prompting can be used to teach a variety of skills, including seeking information, pointing to objects, identifying numbers/objects, and remaining “on task.” The use of prompting procedures increases the probability that learners with ASD use target skills correctly. All of the prompting procedures outlined in this module contain three main components:

  • the antecedent (i.e., target stimulus and cue/task direction) that tells the learner to use the target skill,
    the target skill (i.e., learner response), and
    the consequence (i.e., feedback/reinforcement provided by team members).

The three componenets are critical to implementing prompting procedures effectively. When team members use all three components during a teaching activity, it is called a trial.

Target Stimulus (Antecedent)

The target stimulus is the “thing” or “situation” to which we want the learner to respond by performing the target skill.


  • If a learner’s hands are dirty from finger painting, messy hands should be the target stimulus to wash hands.
  • If the child wants a toy a peer has, the target stimulus is the toy and the peer. The target skill is asking for the toy.
  • If the goal is for the learner to name a picture, the picture is the target stimulus

Cue (Antecedent)

A cue or task direction/question tells learners the skills or behaviors they should be using. For example, a team member might give a learner a picture card to go wash hands, saying, “Time to wash your hands.” The target stimulus is the dirty hands; the cue or task direction is the picture and verbal command. When using prompting procedures, the cue should be consistent so that learners know exactly when they are supposed to do something. The target stimulus also is important because it helps learners recognize that they should be using a particular skill even when team members are not present and providing a cue or task direction.

Learner Response (Target Skill)

Learner response is essentially the target skill team members want the learner to acquire. Learners are more likely to use the target skill accurately when the cue and target stimulus are clear and consistent. However, learner responses and use of target skills are not always successful. Therefore, learner responses are classified as either correct or incorrect.

Feedback (Consequence)

The reinforcement and feedback provided after a learner’s response are critical for teaching the target skill. When learners use skills successfully or respond accurately, feedback should be highly positive and descriptive so that learners know exactly what they did that was correct. Positive feedback (i.e., reinforcement) increases the likelihood that the target skill will be used correctly in the future. With prompting procedures, correct responding should be reinforced even when it is prompted. Feedback for incorrect responding (i.e., incorrect use of target skill) is delivered either by ignoring the incorrect response or by applying a correction procedure. The latter type of feedback generally consists of either interrupting learners when they begin to respond incorrectly or repeating or stopping the trial.

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