A Joint Statement on the Use of Prompting

Teacher and student

This article originally appeared in START Connecting in March 2023. 
Updated in October 2023

The Importance of Prompting for Teaching

Prompting is a tool for teaching that may be used to assist anyone learning a skill. It is especially important for learners who may need additional cues to accelerate learning and reduce errors and frustration. 

Imagine a student who is interested in using an iPad app for communication. During acquisition, circumstances are created to foster engagement and motivate communication. The learner is prompted by an adult to select icons to learn the association between icons and communicative needs. This may involve stimulus prompts (making the icons larger), model prompts, and gestures (i.e., pointing). Planful use of prompting improves efficiency and leads to frequent success and a positive association with the communication tool. As the learner becomes more fluent, prompts are used to remind the learner to use this new skill to communicate rather than revert to less functional methods of communication. As the learner progresses, the prompts by an adult are faded to promote independence. Learning to communicate is a life-altering skill for this learner. How we use prompting to teach and maintain this skill plays a role in the future success of this learner both when using the iPad and when learning other skills. 

Prompting is an evidence-based practice defined as the “verbal, gestural, or physical assistance given to learners to support them in acquiring or engaging in a targeted behavior or skill.” - National Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice (NCAEP)

Developing a Common Understanding of Prompting

Prompting is commonly used within schools by nearly all staff. Yet, an understanding of the use of prompts is more often assumed than intentionally taught. This often results in the inconsistent, and sometimes incorrect, use of prompting as a teaching practice. Although it may seem like a harmless strategy, misapplication may have negative consequences. For example, the overuse of physical prompts can be a barrier to independent responding and may lead to prompt dependence or resistance. 

The use of prompting needs to involve intentional planning and consideration of learner assent. Improving the overall use of prompting will require training and a common understanding of terminology, practices, goals, and outcomes across all staff.  

Introduction to the Joint Statement on the Use of Prompting

The inspiration for the Joint Statement on the Use of Prompting started as questions from the field about how the Michigan Department of Education Office of Special Education (MDE OSE) grant-funded projects communicate information about the use of prompting as a teaching tool. In particular, questions arose about the use of a prompting hierarchy and when the use of physical prompts are appropriate. This led to the development of a workgroup to start the discussion about best practices related to prompting and to ensure consistent communication across projects. This joint statement is the result of work by Alt+Shift, Michigan Alliance for Families, and START and was reviewed and supported by MDE OSE. The participating projects plan to disseminate the joint statement and additional resources through training, meetings, and online media.  

The main ideas from the joint statement are focused on six Essential Considerations:

  • Compliance vs. Cooperation
  • Learner Assent 
  • A Decision-Making Process for Prompting
  • Fading Prompts
  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)/Communication
  • Development and Documentation of the Plan

To learn more about the Joint Statement and Prompting:

  • Read the Joint Statement on the Use of Prompting and create opportunities to discuss it with others.
  • Watch a short, introductory video about the Joint Statement. 
  • Review the Prompting Statement Supplemental Materials document. This document will be updated periodically.
  • Learn more about the technical aspects of prompting through training offered by START and on-demand modules through AFIRM and AIM.
  • Consider whether you are using prompting in a progressive way (e.g., seeking assent, systematically planning for prompting, promoting consistency across staff).
  • Watch for future resources supporting the Joint Statement on the Use of Prompting including a family-friendly infographic and mini videos on each of the Essential Considerations.

Written by: Amy Matthews, Ph.D., BCBA (Project Director) and Stephanie Dyer, Ed.S., BCBA (Autism Education and Intervention Specialist)

A Brief Message about the Joint Prompting Statement

Page last modified October 30, 2023