Prompting/fading procedures are used extremely often when implementing ABA interventions with individuals with ASD. When used correctly, and the fading procedures are systematic, this strategy is quite effective. However, it should not be the first plan of action in many instances. Here’s why:
Think about how you learn most of the things you know. It can be through reading and through experiences. Many people say, “I need to see it first.” Well, we know that children with ASD are visual learners. Don’t you think it makes sense that they would need to see it first as well? Thus, instead of making a request and then prompt if the child does not respond, first model the expectation. Immediately following the model, provide an opportunity for the child to imitate the model. This strategy is called modeling/request imitation (Buffington, Krantz, McClannahan, & Poulson, 1998). If you can show the child exactly what you want him/her to do, you will be surprised how often the child can imitate the response without any prompts. Of course, if the child does not imitate the model, prompting/fading procedures can be used at that time.
Another reason why it is important to use modeling/request imitation is to increase the child’s independence. If the child can see what is expected, and imitate the model without any prompts, independence is achieved much quicker than using prompts and having to systematically fade them out. Using modeling/request imitation is a great way to prevent prompt dependency.
One more reason to use modeling/request imitation before prompting/fading procedures is to build the child’s self-esteem. If the child can see what you want and imitate without any prompts, the child is likely to have a sense of accomplishment and feel good about his/her performance. Once prompts have to be initiated, you are saying, “Let me help you.” Depending on how those prompts are delivered, the child can quickly begin to feel like a failure. I am not saying that using prompting/fading procedures is bad because I use them all of the time. I am saying it is best to first try modeling/request imitation. Initiate prompting/fading procedures only if the child cannot respond to the model. Below are some examples for using modeling/request imitation:
1. Early Childhood: A caregiver wants to teach a child how to use a fork. The caregiver first models sticking the fork into a piece of food, then takes the fork out, gives it to the child and says, “Now, you try!” The child takes the fork and attempts to stick it into the food. Although the fork didn’t go all the way in, the caregiver positively reinforces the child with specific praise and quickly puts the fork in the food and gives it to the child to eat. With each successive trial, the caregiver models and offers an opportunity for the child to imitate. After just a few trials, the child is able to independently stick a fork into the food.
2. Elementary: A teacher wants to teach a child how to add with regrouping. The teacher sits next to the child and writes two of the same problem on a piece of paper. One problem is on the child’s side; the other is on the teacher’s side. The teacher first models adding the numbers in the ones column, and provides an opportunity for the student to imitate that step with the same problem. Next, the teacher models how to add the tens column with the number that was carried over, and provides an opportunity for the student to imitate that step as well using the same problem. Several problems are done this way until the student is able to complete the problem without any modeling.
3. Middle/High School: A teacher wants to teach a student how to measure materials for a science experiment using measuring cups and measuring spoons. The teacher decides to use peer-mediated intervention by having a peer use modeling/request imitation to show the child how to measure with the cups and the spoons. For each item that needs to be measured, the peer first shows the child how to fill up the measuring cup/spoon, then dumps it out and gives the student an opportunity to imitate the model. The peer continues to use modeling/request imitation until the student can measure independently without the model.
4. Community-Based Instruction: An employer wants to teach an individual how to file away folders in alphabetical order. The employer models how to do so, removes the folder, and provides an opportunity of the individual to imitate. This is repeated with several different folders until the individuals can file alphabetically without a model.