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Understanding Prompt Hierarchy in ABA Therapy

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Prompting is a big word in the field of ABA. If you’re navigating the world of autism therapy, understanding prompting and prompt hierarchy can empower you to better support your child’s progress. As with all things ABA, it is essential that prompting is personalized to your child’s skill set. Let’s break it down step by step, so you can feel confident supporting your child’s growth every step of the way.

What is a Prompt in ABA?

In ABA therapy, a prompt is a cue or assistance provided to help a child learn a new skill or behavior. Think of it as a guiding hand that gently nudges your child in the right direction.

Types of Prompts

Teacher and Young Girl Drawing Together

There are various types of prompts used in ABA therapy, ranging from physical prompts (like hand-over-hand guidance) to verbal prompts (such as giving instructions or hints). Each type is tailored to suit your child’s individual needs and learning style.


Let’s say your child is learning to tie their shoelaces. A physical prompt might involve gently guiding their hands through the motions. A verbal prompt could be providing step-by-step instructions like “cross the laces” or “make a loop.”

What is the Hierarchy of Prompting in ABA?

Mother Teaching Young Daughter How to Brush Her Teeth

Now, let’s delve into the concept of prompt hierarchy. This hierarchy outlines the levels of prompts, from the most intrusive to the least intrusive, guiding therapists on when and how to fade prompts as a child becomes more independent.

Let’s consider an example of prompt hierarchy in ABA therapy using a common skill: brushing teeth. Levels:

1. Full Physical Prompt

Therapist: Physically guides the child’s hand to hold the toothbrush and move it back and forth along the teeth.

This level of prompting involves complete physical assistance. The therapist helps the child by physically guiding their hand through the entire teeth-brushing process.

2. Partial Physical Prompt

Therapist: Places hand over the child’s hand to hold the toothbrush while allowing the child to move it along the teeth.

Here, the therapist provides partial physical assistance. They support the child’s hand while allowing them to perform some steps independently.

3. Modeling Prompt

Therapist: Demonstrates brushing teeth by doing it in front of the child.

In this level, the therapist demonstrates the behavior for the child to imitate. The child observes the therapist brushing their teeth and is encouraged to do the same.

4. Verbal Prompt

Therapist: Says, “Now, brush your teeth. Remember to use circular motions.”

Verbal prompts involve providing cues or instructions. The therapist verbally guides the child through the steps of brushing their teeth, reminding them of important details.

5. Visual Prompt

Therapist: Shows a picture or a video demonstrating proper teeth-brushing technique.

Visual prompts use images or videos to prompt the child. The therapist may show pictures or videos illustrating how to brush teeth correctly, reinforcing the desired behavior visually.

6. Gestural Prompt

Therapist: Uses a hand gesture to indicate brushing teeth.

Gestural prompts involve subtle cues or gestures. The therapist may use hand signals or gestures to prompt the child to brush their teeth without verbal instructions.

7. Independent

Child: Brushes teeth without any assistance.

At this level, the child performs the task independently, without any prompting or assistance from the therapist.

Benefits of Prompting

Prompt hierarchy in ABA therapy offers several benefits. It provides a structured framework for teaching new skills, promotes independence, and allows therapists to gradually fade prompts as the child gains proficiency.

Using Prompting in ABA

From setting prompts to fading, ABA therapists carefully tailor their approach to meet the unique needs of each child. They start with more intrusive prompts and gradually fade them as the child demonstrates mastery of the skill.

Mistakes to Avoid

While prompts are valuable tools, it’s essential to use them judiciously. Avoid over-reliance on prompts, as this can hinder the child’s ability to develop independence. Additionally, be mindful of prompt intrusiveness and strive to strike the right balance between support and autonomy.


Understanding prompt hierarchy in ABA therapy empowers you to actively participate in your child’s journey towards independence and skill acquisition. By familiarizing yourself with the different levels of prompts and their appropriate usage, you can support your child’s progress effectively. If you’re interested in learning more about ABA therapy and how it can benefit your child, don’t hesitate to reach out to Heartlinks ABA for personalized support and guidance. Together, we can create a brighter future for your child!

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