The Guide to Errorless Learning
Table of Contents
Tears, outbursts, and throwing objects are the scenarios parents often describe to us when they try to teach their autistic child a new task.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a more straightforward method to teaching your autistic child a new skill or task that won’t end in tears or tantrums.
It’s called errorless learning.
This powerful teaching tool is a form of applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy considered the premier treatment for children on the spectrum. So, if you’re asking yourself, “What is errorless learning?” you’re on the right page. Autistic children can learn a new skill or task through smiles and laughter.
Welcome to errorless learning.
What is Errorless Learning in ABA?
Errorless learning is a teaching method that falls under the ABA umbrella of therapy.
Also known as errorless teaching, this unique approach involves teaching either new skills or concepts to an autistic child without allowing them to make any errors throughout the learning process. The ‘errorless’ learning process is achieved thanks to the therapist’s prompts or clues to ensure the skill or concept is completed correctly each time.
Unlike their neurotypical peers, who often learn more successfully when they make mistakes in the learning process, this is not the case for kids on the spectrum. Frustration, which is a natural result of learning a new skill or behavior, can lead to harmful or aggressive behavior in autistic children.
They’re more inclined to learn new skills or behaviors if they consistently choose the correct answer.
This is the foundation of errorless learning.
What are the Goals of Errorless Learning?
In truth, virtually any skill or concept can be taught using effortless learning.
For children on the spectrum, valuable life skills such as personal hygiene and self-care can be learned this way. Another common application of errorless learning is teaching language and communication skills. The opportunities for errorless learning are never-ending; a child’s communication skills can increase tremendously from identifying objects to using their vocabulary to speak with others.
Effortless learning can also help a child on the spectrum improve their fine and gross motor skills. Whether learning to use scissors or how to run, these critical abilities are essential to flourish in a neurotypical world.
Implementing Errorless Learning in ABA
Before an intervention, also known as an errorless learning session, the child’s agreement to participate needs to be obtained. This ‘ok’ is known as assent. A child’s assent can be secured in several ways depending on their age, ability to communicate, and the severity of their autism.
Step 1 – Identifying the skill or concept and the level of mastery
Once assent has been obtained, an effortless learning session begins with a probe.
Firstly, the ABA therapist must identify the skill or concept that needs to be mastered by the young client. Through questions, the therapist can determine their young client’s skill level and understanding of the intended task or concept. The therapist must also determine the mastery criteria of the task or concept. How do we know when the child can perform this concept or skill on their own?
Step 2 – Identifying the type of required prompt
It’s the ABA therapist’s responsibility to identify the type of prompt that will be used to ensure the client masters the task or concept.
For example, if the therapist wants to show the child how to set the table, the therapist may choose from the following prompts.
a. Physical prompts
Errorless learning directs therapists to use physical prompts when learning a new task or skill. Physical prompts include fully, partially, or lightly touching or shadowing the child.
If the child doesn’t know what to use when setting the table, the therapist may take them by the hand and lead them to the cutlery.
Physical prompts are considered the most invasive because they involve making physical contact with the child.
b. Visual prompts
Visual prompts are optical clues a therapist provides to the child to help them complete the new task or skill. Several visual prompts include stimulus, model, gestural, and position.
c. Verbal prompts
Verbal prompts can take two forms: indirect or direct. An example of an indirect verbal prompt is asking the autistic child, “What are you going to do next now that you’ve got the cutlery in your hand?” If the therapist asked the same question using a direct verbal prompt, it would be, “Put the cutlery out on the table like this…”
Step 3 – Conducting an error teaching trial.
Trials or run-throughs of the task or new skill are repeated until the child can execute it independently. A child has mastered the skill when they’ve met the therapist’s criteria in step 1.
Step 4 – Decreasing prompting
The expertly trained therapist will gradually decrease the time between the start of the skill and the prompt throughout the errorless learning process.
The goal is to encourage the autistic child to perform the task on their own eventually. This ABA tactic is called prompt fading.
What is Prompt Fading in Errorless Learning?
There are two types of prompt fading: MTL (most-least) and LTM (least-to-most).
The ABA therapist starts with the most suitable intrusive prompting for the task or skill in this errorless learning session. With the child setting the table, the ABA therapist may take their hand and lead them to the cutlery using direct physical prompting. Then, they may put their hand over the child’s and set the table together.
As the task is mastered, the therapist will choose less invasive prompts, such as hand gestures, should the child encounter difficulty setting the table.
The least-to-most prompt fading is the opposite approach of MTL. An ABA therapist begins with the least intrusive prompt to teach their client a new task or skill—the intrusiveness of the prompt increases until the child can complete the process correctly.
This approach of moving from least to most is efficient with autistic children who are sensitive to sensory overload. They may become easily frustrated when the prompts are too intense (i.e., physical prompts).
Examples of Errorless Learning
There are so many errorless learning examples
Recently, the therapist of a six-year-old autistic child wanted to teach her how to brush her long hair. The ABA therapist chose errorless learning to instruct her on completing this task.
Step 1 – Identifying the level of mastery
The therapist already knows the skill she wants to teach her young client: how to brush her hair.
The next step is determining how she’ll know when the girl has mastered this task.
Step 2 – Identifying the type of prompt
Based on the child’s limited knowledge about brushing hair, her therapist will start the errorless learning with a physical prompt.
Other types of prompts will depend on the therapist’s experience with the girl and approaches that have been successful in the past.
Step 3 – Start the teaching trial.
The therapist instructs the child to “brush her hair.
She then gently places the girl’s hand over the hairbrush. Together, they take the instrument and brush the girl’s hair gently and consistently.
If the girl responds incorrectly to a prompt the therapist has given, they might opt for another type of cue, such as a visual or physical one. This is known as an error correction procedure.
Step 4 – Repeating the trials
After much repetition through regular trials, the girl begins to understand how to brush her hair.
At this point, the ABA therapist can start fading the prompts, ensuring she responds correctly when asked to brush her hair.
But this entirely depends on how the child is learning and their level of frustration.
Learn More from Heartlinks ABA
Whether your autistic child has mastered a number of skills and concepts or is newly diagnosed, there’s always an opportunity to use errorless learning when in an ABA therapy setting.
The days of emotional outbursts when learning a new skill or concept may be in the past, thanks to errorless learning.