Fading -- Moving Toward Greater Independence

fading words

Prompting is a great way to help your child learn more effectively. But fading those prompts after she has mastered a skill is essential to complete success.

If you haven’t read the page on prompting, I highly recommend that you go back and read that page first and then come back here. Then this page will make a lot more sense to you.

Once you have read about prompting, it’s important to know how to reduce those prompts to the point that the learner no longer needs them.

Now you may be thinking that this seems like a lot of extra busy work, as if we parents have nothing else to do with our time. 

I wouldn't suggest you do something extra unless it was important. 

As you know, our kids learn quite a bit differently from most children, and sometimes this step is needed. I'll explain this below.

Why We Need to Fade Our Prompts

Suppose you have taught your child how to wash his hands. You’re using the hand-over-hand technique. You’re turning on the water for him, holding his hands, and moving his hands for him.

Now it’s time to phase out that prompt. Why?

Because if you don’t, he might remain dependent on cues and prompts. He might fail to learn how to perform the task without any help.

This doesn’t mean that you’re going to let his hands go and let everything fall apart.

When you are fading your prompt, you will be gradually reducing the amount of prompting you are giving him until he can do the task well without your help.

I’ll give you a couple of examples of how to do this.

Let's Start with the Hand-Washing Example

Okay, Susie is washing her hands well because you are helping her using the hand-over-hand technique.

Now it’s time to start reducing that prompt. I’ll outline some steps you could follow to phase yourself out of the hand-washing process.

  1. Touch her hands, gently guiding her through the process. At this point, you’re not doing the action for her like you were before. You’re just giving her hands little pushes, directing them where you want them to go.
  2. Once she is doing the task well with that prompt, you could move to tapping her hand, tapping the soap and tapping the faucet handle. This tapping will let her know what she needs to do next.
  3. Once she is used to the tapping prompt, you can move to a verbal prompt only. You could say, “Turn on the water. Get some soap.” And so on.
  4. Next, reduce the verbal prompts to just one word. “Water. Soap. Rinse. Dry.”
  5. Eliminate the verbal prompts, and let her wash her hands on her own.

You could vary this procedure according to your needs. For example, you could be giving her verbal instructions along with step 1 if you think she needs it. Then in step 3, you can remove the physical prompt, leaving only the verbal prompt.

Learning to Write Using Visual Prompts

fading lettersFading Letters

Remember that on the prompting page I discussed moving from a more intensive prompt to less intensive ones?

I described starting with the hand-over-hand technique. The next step was to push the wrist to keep it down against the paper. And the last step was a touch on the hand as a cue to write. That was an example of fading physical prompts during a writing lesson.

That same writing lesson could be done with visual prompts, too. Here are some possible steps you could follow for phasing out visual prompts.

  1. First, your child will trace over letters you have written ahead of time.
  2. Next, he will trace over letters written with dotted lines.
  3. Then you gradually reduce the amount or intensity of the dotted lines until they are almost nonexistent.
  4. Finally, he will write the letters without any visual prompts.

Do you get the idea?

Remember that it’s also important to be sensitive to the needs of the child, and change the procedure to suit his needs and abilities.

And I am sure there are a thousand different ways you could phase out your prompts. As someone has said, “Do what works.”

If your child picks up very quickly on what he is supposed to do, he may not need any more prompting. You can eliminate the whole fading process for that task. Remember the principle to use prompts only as much as the learner needs them.

But in another situation, he may need to stay at a certain stage of the phasing-out process for a while before moving on.

The point here is to be aware of your child's needs and to change your plan accordingly when necessary.

Need More Help?

Carrie Clark of Speech and Language Kids understands the concept of fading quite well.  As a speech therapist, she is applying what she knows to teaching her own child new skills.  She has a great way of explaining this concept and demonstrating how any parent can use this knowledge to help their children acquire new skills or overcome bad habits.

Armed with this information you can teach your child just about anything that he is capable of learning.  I believe fading is an under-used technique that more parents of children with autism could apply with a lot of success.

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