It’s important that we not let children become too dependent on the direction we provide for them. However, even in the best of cases this does happen sometimes. There are various reasons for that. There is no magic fix, but there is a process that can help reduce dependence on prompts. In this article we will go over the process to decrease prompt dependency in autism, but first let’s discuss what it means to be dependent on prompts.
Prompt Dependency Definition
Prompt dependency is a type of behavior where a child relies on being told what to do by a parent or caregiver. This is normal, and expected, in certain situations. When it crosses the line into being prompt dependence is when the child knows exactly what to do, but is still waiting for the prompt before taking action.
Being dependent on prompts can make it difficult or impossible for a child do things by themselves. In the most extreme cases of prompt dependence, even something as necessary as eating or going to the bathroom might not be possible on one’s own without being prompted to do so. That’s why decreasing prompt dependency is critical as a child gets older. The goal is to teach them greater independence in all areas of life, including responsibility, regulation, and relationships. This is accomplished by teaching skills and skill sets that the child can initiate independently, use across all environments, and maintain over time.
Identifying Prompt Dependency
You might notice prompt dependence in a number of different ways. For example, your child may stand by the door every morning completely unprepared for the day. That’s because he or she is waiting for you to prompt them to do something like get their backpack, get their lunch, put on appropriate outdoor clothing, and so on. If your child stands around waiting to be told what to do, whether it’s getting ready in the morning or anything else, that’s a key sign of prompt dependence.
Prompt dependence can occur for many different reasons. It most commonly occurs in children with autism because children who have difficulty with motor skills or cognitive and language delays receive more prompting than others when they’re very young. As a result, they get in the habit of waiting for the prompt, while parents get in the habit of providing the prompt before they actually need it.
Decreasing Prompt Dependency
There is no one way of breaking prompt dependency in autism. This is a process, and it’s perfectly OK if it takes some time before you start to notice progress being made. Just keep in mind — when you change your behavior, your child’s behavior will change as a result. So stick with the process and you will start to notice a difference.
- Consider the areas in which your child is too dependent on your prompts. This involves any situation in which your child waits for you to act before they do, even if they know what they should be doing. Think ahead to all of the skills they eventually need to learn in the coming years, but start with the most basic activities of daily life (personal hygiene, dressing, safety, etc.) before moving onto more complex tasks.
- Instead of providing the usual direct commands or answers in these situations, encourage your child to try figuring out what to do on their own before asking for help. For example, instead of stating “Go clean your room,” you can ask “What steps do you need to take to clean your room?” Be patient, and offer positive reinforcement for the attempt, even if the child isn’t always successful. This will help them learn that the act of trying is a good thing.
- Plan which strategies you want your child to use and teach them over and over again. Going back to the example of the child waiting for a prompt to get ready in the morning, a strategy you might use in this situation is a checklist of things they need to do before leaving the house. Then, when they ask for help in the morning, they can refer to the list. Eventually they may progress to the point of getting ready in the morning without referring to the list at all.
This simple 3-step framework is an easy-to-implement starting point for decreasing prompt dependency. To take this concept even further, parents can educate themselves on prompt hierarchy and how to move from external to internal self-prompts. There are various types of prompts (i.e. physical, verbal, and gestural) and strategies for how to decrease dependence on them.
Always remember that it’s an extremely gradual process to move an individual from intense prompt dependence to self-sufficiency. As you begin trying new approaches, remember to pause and give wait time to encourage the thinking process, rather than immediately correcting the child.
We hope you’re able to take these examples and use them to generate ideas for reducing your child’s dependence on prompts. This is a simple process that could be applied to just about any situation where you find your child is particularly dependent on your clear, explicit direction. The goal in every instance is to encourage independent problem solving. Remember to always reward the attempt, because taking action without waiting for direction is considered a success.
Recognizing a child’s areas of greatest intelligence, and strongest executive functions, can help create an effective plan to reduce prompt dependence. The most fun and engaging way to identify talents and strengths is to have them try some of our free games, which explore the full range of a child’s multiple intelligences and executive functioning skills.