What is Prompting in ABA?

Prompting in applied behavior analysis (ABA) is an intervention strategy that aims to support the learner’s success toward their treatment goals. There are a variety of different types of prompts.

  • VERBAL PROMPTS: Prompts can be verbal instructions, such as telling a child “Put the toothpaste on the toothbrush.” when teaching a child how to brush their teeth.
  • GESTURAL PROMPTS: Prompts can be gestures like pointing to a location where a child should put their toys when they are cleaning their bedroom or play area.
  • MODELING PROMPTS: Prompts can be showing or modeling to someone how to complete a particular activity or behavior.
  • PHYSICAL PROMPTS: Prompts can be physically helping someone to accomplish something such as holding a child’s hand to help them stay near their parent when walking down a sidewalk.
  • TEXTUAL PROMPTS: Prompting can be written text of how something should be done, such as a written script of what to say during a phone conversation or a specific social interaction.

Prompts make it more likely that someone will make the correct response or behave in a particular manner.

Benefits of Prompting

Prompting has great benefits for the learner. As mentioned, prompting helps set the learner up for success. Prompting helps to prevent feelings of frustration and overwhelm with learning new skills. Providing prompts helps the learner to make progress toward their goals.

Prompting allows the learner to be more likely to access reinforcement for performing certain behaviors.

For instance, if a child is working on learning to read and their parent offers verbal prompts for some of the words, such as giving the sound of the first letter in a word, the child then can say the full word and complete the book (even with help from their parent). As a result, the child then is likely to experience positive reinforcement from the parent in the form of praise and feel a sense of achievement from reading. Without prompts, in this situation, the child may either incorrectly read or may not try to read at all if they are unsure of what the words are and thus not accessing the reinforcement that comes from reading.


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Prompting & Data Collection

Data collection can sometimes be challenging when tracking how prompting is being used with the learner. First, since there are a variety of prompts that can be used – such as gestural, verbal, written, model prompt, physical prompts, and so on – taking data on the prompt that was used as well as on the learner’s behavior related to that prompt can be complicated. It is important to collect data on not only what type of prompt was being used but also on the learner’s behavioral response.

Just taking data on the learner’s response without indicating that a prompt was used may lead to an inaccurate analysis of the learner’s progress toward their goals. It could also lead to prompt dependency if the therapist or the teacher isn’t being aware of what type of prompting is being used, how often the prompt is being used, and whether the prompting is being faded over time.

How BCBAs use Prompting

Oftentimes, the BCBA that is managing the learner’s case is going to analyze the data that is collected by the behavior technician or the therapist. The BCBA might model how to use particular prompts with the learner so that the behavior technician is better equipped to implement prompting strategies during direct therapy sessions.

The BCBA will analyze the data that the behavior technician (or behavior therapist) collects. The BCBA will consider what prompts are being used with the learner, whether the learner is performing the identified target behavior, and whether prompts are being used less often over time and will guide the behavior technician or therapist on how to effectively use and fade prompts.

Staff Training

Another example of how BCBAs use prompting in their work is in staff training. BCBAs will use prompting to teach behavior technicians and other supervisees how to utilize particular intervention strategies. They might use written prompts to provide guidance as to how to follow a behavior plan for reducing challenging behaviors. They might use model prompts to teach the behavior technician how to provide positive reinforcement or how to use a token economy.

Staff training might not include data collection to the degree that data collection is gathered on the client’s treatment. However, BCBAs might monitor if their staff is making improvements in their work performance to ensure quality care and effective treatment is being provided.

How Catalyst can Help BCBAs with Reporting

Catalyst is an electronic data collection software option for ABA organizations. Catalyst provides BCBAs and behavior technicians the opportunity to collect many different types of data. BCBAs can analyze data in real-time and across time for their clients. They can see how the learner performed on target behaviors and skills immediately after the data is entered into the system. The BCBA can analyze the prompting procedures that were used and the patterns over time that are present for the learner.

Being able to analyze data in real-time and from day to day and across time is an extremely valuable opportunity for behavior analysts working with people receiving intensive services, such as those working with children with autism spectrum disorder who receive frequent ABA therapy sessions.

Human behavior is complex and changing human behavior is even more complex; Therefore, BCBAs need to be able to closely analyze what is happening in their client’s services, including how prompting is being used and whether interventions are effective or not. If too much time passes in which ineffective practices are being used or if a client’s behavior is worsening instead of improving, it can be even more challenging to get the learner back into a positive trend toward meeting their treatment goals.

By being able to monitor data that has been collected appropriately and that is presented in a meaningful way, BCBAs can make effective decisions for their client’s treatment. Catalyst can help BCBAs with this very important, life-changing work.

Next Steps for ABA Organizations

It’s important to have a quality data collection system in place to support a behavior technician’s role of collecting data, a BCBAs role of analyzing data, and, most importantly, to support your client’s treatment outcomes.

For support in your organization’s data collection efforts, consider Catalyst. You can sign up for a free trial of our data collection software today!