Prompting for More Effective Learning

Prompting increases success

Prompting is a technique that makes learning much easier for children with autism. It works well for just about any subject or skill you are teaching to your child.

My son often needs this kind of help. Sometimes he needs a hint, cue, or reminder to action. For example, if he becomes distracted when I want him to tie his shoes, a little tap on his arm is often all he needs to get him going again.

How Will This Technique Help My Child Learn?

Here are a few ways...

  • When your child forgets the answer, he may need a reminder. This gives him more repetition, helping him learn the information or skill faster. This is important since some children with autism learn more slowly than other children do.
  • His greater success with learning will encourage him to keep trying.
  • These cues and reminders can keep him on task. Children with autism are sometimes easily distracted. If they are highly distractible, they may need a lot of these helps to stay with the lesson.

Types of Prompts

The following is a list of some types, but this is not a complete list.


I think you'll recognize that we use spoken cues or reminders all the time. Here are some examples:

  • Simply telling the learner the answer. This also provides repetition.
  • Giving part of the answer to help her remember the rest of the answer.
  • Demonstrating how to articulate a word.
  • Giving the child a fill-in-the-blank cue to help him remember an answer. For example, if you are asking him what the boy in the picture is doing and he doesn’t respond, you could say, “The boy is,” and then see if he can give an answer.


This can involve showing an object or picture to help her remember the answer. For example, if the question is “What animal likes to bark,” you could show her a picture of a dog.

Visual cuing could also involve highlighting words or pictures.


Suppose you ask the question, “What do we do with an apple,” and she doesn’t know how to respond. You could make the sign for “eat” if she knows sign language. Or you could pretend to eat an imaginary apple.


Positional prompts cue the child of the next step in a procedure by placing a reminder close by. 

Suppose you want to teach your teenage son how to prepare a simple snack.  To remind him of what he will need to do next, such as getting a bowl, you might place the bowl close to him.


Modeling is so effective for a lot of people that most of us are familiar with it. It involves performing the task in front of the learner so he can see how to do it.

Sometimes it will be easier for your child to see you perform a task than it will be for him to understand your spoken instructions.


These cues can range from very intensive to the least intensive. The degree that you use will depend on what your child needs.

The “hand-over-hand” technique is more intensive and is often needed when a child is starting to learn a new skill or needs a lot of help.

This method is effective in showing a child how to do something with his hands, such as writing. As the name suggests, you place your hand over your child’s hand and help him perform a task, such as writing a letter or word.

As your child gets better at writing, you may graduate to less intensive help, such as holding his wrist down against the paper to keep him from holding his wrist up when he writes.

The least intensive physical prompt might be simply touching his hand to remind him to continue writing.

This process of reducing cues is known as fading.

Some Important Points to Remember

  • As a general rule, give the least amount and the least intensive help needed.

  • Before prompting, give your child a chance to answer or to do the task first if you think she may be able to respond correctly. Once you know she doesn’t know the answer, then you can help her.
  • Cues that may work well for one child may not work as well for another. You can find out which ones will work best for him through trial and error. Also knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses will help you select the right approach for him.

Keep These Ideas in Mind For When You Need Them

You may even wish to print this page if you want to keep this list as a reminder for yourself. You could think of it as your own prompt. After all, don't we all need help from time to time?

Using these techniques will make it so much easier for him to master the information and skills required to reach his potential.

If you have questions or if you would like more information about prompting and how to use this technique, check out this article by Autism Classroom News & Resources.

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