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Move Into Action with Prompting

It’s the beginning of the school year and Johnny, a student with autism, is for the first time in an inclusive class setting. So far, he has integrated well into his 2ndgrade class, though there are still some skills that he needs assistance with. Luckily, he has you, his RBT, right there with him to ensure he inches closer and closer to achieving his goals! One of Johnny’s biggest hurdles in his new class is initiating a written task. Each day, the class is given a worksheet to complete independently. While his classmates complete their work, Johnny instead gets distracted by things in his environment and will not get started on his own.

Our job is to assist Johnny in achieving the skill of independently initiating a written task. How can we help him?


We can use prompting, to help Johnny move into action!

In ABA, prompts are an essential part of teaching new skills. Prompts are specific and strategic types of assistance (help) given to a client in order to increase the likelihood of a correct response. For new skills, we want to start with the most intrusive prompts, and then reduce to less intrusive prompts as our learner achieves success.

Here’s how this may look for Johnny. All learners are different and therefore may start with a different level of prompts.


Physical Prompt – Using physical contact to make sure a skill is demonstrated correctly. This may involve softly guiding Johnny hand-over-hand or simply moving his elbow forward prompting him to pick up his pencil and begin writing his name on the worksheet.

Verbal Prompt – Using only verbal instructions to bring about an accurate response. This may sound like “Johnny, get your pencil and begin your work” or simply “Get started”.

Gestural Prompt – Using a motion to cue the correct response. This may look like pointing to the pencil in order to get Johnny to pick it up and get started with his task.

Positional Prompt – Placing the necessary items in a location that elicits a correct response. This may involve placing his pencil and worksheet in view of Johnny’s eye level.

Visual Prompt – Using text or images to produce the correct response. You may make a visual image of the steps or write them in words for Johnny to reference depending on our learners reading level.

Don’t forget to positively reinforce Johnny’s successes; even when a prompt is used!


The ultimate goal is for you to be able to fade the visual prompt out completely in the future, so there is no prompts needed for Johnny to independently initiate written tasks. In the chance that this doesn’t happen though, you can always return to a previous prompt or try to delay giving the visual prompt to see if Johnny moves closer to independence.

When implemented correctly, prompts are a very valuable tool to development independence for children with autism. In addition, prompting meets the evidence-based practice criteria with five single-subject design studies, demonstrating its effectiveness in the domains of academic and language/communication in all three age groups (i.e., preschool, elementary, middle/high school). See All.

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Teaching Life Skills with Task Analysis

Take It Step-By-Step

Time to discuss the details of yet another Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) frequently used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) by Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs). It’s called Task Analysis. The name might sound complex, but it is actually a rather simple strategy to understand. What Task Analysis entails, is breaking a skill down into sequentially ordered steps, so they can be taught one step at a time. Think of Task Analysis as creating an instruction manual to complete a task.

In our everyday lives, we complete long strings of behaviors in order to accomplish tasks without giving much thought to it. The act of brushing your teeth alone is comprised of a whopping 22 steps or more! Check it out…

  1. Get your toothbrush.
  2. Turn on the faucet.
  3. Get your toothbrush wet.
  4. Turn off the faucet.
  5. Get the toothpaste.
  6. Take the cap off the toothpaste.
  7. Squeeze the toothpaste on the toothbrush.
  8. Put the cap back on toothpaste.
  9. Brush the inside surfaces of your teeth on top and bottom.
  10. Brush the bitting surfaces of your teeth on top and bottom.
  11. Brush the outside surfaces of your teeth on top and bottom.
  12. Spit in the sink.
  13. Brush your tongue.
  14. Turn on the faucet.
  15. Rinse your toothbrush.
  16. Put the toothbrush away.
  17. Grab a cup.
  18. Fill the cup with water.
  19. Rinse your teeth with water.
  20. Spit the water out.
  21. Put the cup away.
  22. Turn off the faucet.

That’s a lot for an individual with autism to take in all at once. Students with autism learn best when they are given small teachable units of information to process one at a time.

Here are some things to remember when creating a Task Anaysis:

Consistency: Not everyone brushes their teeth in the same way, there is naturally going to be variations to the way a task is completed. The team, consisting of the Behavior Technicians, along with the parents of the child you’re working with, need to agree upon a set procedure for how a task will be performed and write the individual steps down clearly for all to follow.

Tailor-Made: We all have our strengths and weaknesses. When building a task analysis, it is important to consider the skill sets of the child you are working with, this way you know if you need to break steps down into very small sections or if you can group steps together. It will also give you an idea if the skill should be taught starting at the beginning or at the end, and what form of prompting should be used.

Do The Task Yourself: Completing the task yourself while you write your task analysis is very important. You’ll be surprised just how many steps you may leave out unknowingly if you don’t walk through the completion of the steps yourself.