ABA Prompt Hierarchy: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers

In this article, we will explain what ABA prompt hierarchy is, why it is used in ABA therapy, and how it can benefit your child. We will also provide some examples of different prompts that may be used in ABA therapy.

reuben kesherim
Published By Ruben Kesherim
November 22, 2023

ABA Prompt Hierarchy: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers

Understanding ABA Prompt Hierarchy

When it comes to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, ABA prompt hierarchy plays a crucial role in guiding the learning process for individuals with autism. By understanding and implementing this hierarchy, parents and caregivers can effectively support their loved ones in acquiring new skills and behaviors. In this section, we will explore what ABA prompt hierarchy is and why it is important.

What is ABA Prompt Hierarchy?

ABA prompt hierarchy refers to a systematic approach used in ABA therapy to provide prompts or cues to individuals with autism to help them learn and perform specific tasks or behaviors. A prompt can be any type of assistance or additional information provided to guide the individual towards the correct response. The prompt hierarchy outlines different levels of prompts, starting from the most intrusive to the least intrusive, based on the individual's needs and abilities.

The Importance of ABA Prompt Hierarchy

The use of ABA prompt hierarchy is essential for several reasons. First and foremost, it allows for individualized support and ensures that the level of assistance provided is tailored to the specific needs of the person with autism. By starting with the least intrusive prompts and gradually fading them, individuals are encouraged to develop independence and generalization of skills.

Another crucial aspect of ABA prompt hierarchy is its focus on reducing dependence on prompts over time. As individuals progress through the levels of prompts, they gain confidence and become more self-reliant in their abilities. This gradual fading of prompts promotes skill acquisition and helps individuals transfer learned behaviors to different settings and contexts.

It's important to note that the specific implementation of prompt hierarchy may vary based on the individual's abilities, preferences, and the complexity of the task at hand. ABA professionals work closely with parents and caregivers to assess the individual's needs and determine the appropriate level of prompts to facilitate learning and skill development.

Understanding the concept and significance of ABA prompt hierarchy is crucial for parents and caregivers involved in supporting individuals with autism. By following the principles of prompt hierarchy, they can create an effective learning environment that promotes independence, generalization, and long-term success.

Levels of Prompts

In the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), prompt hierarchy plays a crucial role in helping individuals with autism learn new skills. ABA therapists utilize different levels of prompts to guide individuals through tasks and provide the necessary support. Let's explore the various levels of prompts commonly used in ABA therapy:

Physical Prompts

Physical prompts involve the use of physical guidance to assist individuals in completing a task. This can include physically guiding their hand, body, or limbs through the desired actions. Physical prompts are typically used when an individual is first learning a new skill and requires direct physical assistance. As the individual becomes more proficient, the physical prompts are gradually faded to promote independence.

Gestural Prompts

Gestural prompts involve using hand gestures or body movements to guide individuals in performing a specific action. These prompts can include pointing, nodding, or using other nonverbal cues to direct their attention or behavior. Gestural prompts are less intrusive than physical prompts, as they rely on visual cues to prompt the desired response. They are particularly useful for individuals who are more responsive to visual stimuli.

Verbal Prompts

Verbal prompts involve providing verbal cues or instructions to guide individuals in completing a task. These prompts can range from simple verbal reminders to specific verbal instructions. Verbal prompts can be highly effective, especially for individuals who are responsive to auditory input. As with other types of prompts, the goal is to fade verbal prompts gradually, allowing individuals to become more independent in their skills.

Visual Prompts

Visual prompts utilize visual aids or cues to prompt individuals in performing a task. These prompts can include pictures, symbols, or written instructions that serve as visual reminders or guides. Visual prompts are particularly beneficial for individuals who are visual learners or have difficulty understanding verbal instructions. They can be used to enhance understanding, provide structure, and promote independence.

Positional Prompts

Positional prompts involve arranging the environment or manipulating objects to prompt individuals in completing a task. These prompts rely on the physical arrangement or placement of objects to guide individuals in their actions. Positional prompts can include placing objects in specific locations or altering the environment to facilitate desired behaviors. They can be particularly useful for individuals who benefit from visual cues or need additional structure to perform tasks effectively.

Understanding the different levels of prompts in ABA therapy is essential for implementing effective interventions. By assessing an individual's needs and determining the least intrusive prompt level, therapists can provide appropriate support while promoting independence. It's important to continuously assess progress and fade prompts over time to ensure skill generalization and maintenance.

Applying ABA Prompt Hierarchy

Once you have a solid understanding of ABA prompt hierarchy, it's time to apply it in practice. This section will guide you through the process of applying ABA prompt hierarchy effectively to support individuals with autism.

Assessing the Individual's Needs

The first step in applying ABA prompt hierarchy is to assess the individual's specific needs and abilities. This involves conducting a thorough assessment to identify the target skills or behaviors that require prompting. By understanding the individual's strengths, challenges, and current skill level, you can tailor the intervention to their unique needs. It's important to involve ABA professionals in this assessment process to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Determining the Least Intrusive Prompt Level

Once you have assessed the individual's needs, the next step is to determine the least intrusive prompt level that will effectively support their learning and skill acquisition. The goal is to use the least intrusive prompt that allows the individual to successfully complete the task or behavior with minimal assistance. This helps promote independence and reduces reliance on prompts over time.

ABA prompt hierarchy typically follows a least-to-most approach, starting with the least intrusive prompt level and gradually increasing the level of assistance if needed. The least intrusive prompts are typically gestural prompts, followed by verbal prompts, visual prompts, and finally, physical prompts. The decision regarding the prompt level should be based on the individual's response and success in completing the task.

Fading and Prompting Hierarchy

As the individual becomes more proficient in the target skills or behaviors, the ultimate goal is to fade the prompts gradually. Fading involves reducing the level of prompts over time, allowing the individual to perform the task independently. This process should be done systematically and carefully, ensuring that the individual is ready to transition to a lower prompt level.

The fading process follows the prompting hierarchy, moving from more intrusive prompts to less intrusive ones. By gradually reducing the level of prompts, individuals can develop independence and generalize their skills across different settings and contexts. It's important to monitor progress closely and make adjustments as needed to ensure a successful fading process.

During the fading process, continuous data collection is crucial to track the individual's progress and make informed decisions about prompt fading. By consistently collecting data, you can identify patterns, areas of improvement, and adjust the intervention accordingly. This helps to ensure that the fading process is effective and tailored to the individual's progress.

By applying ABA prompt hierarchy, assessing the individual's needs, determining the least intrusive prompt level, and implementing a fading plan, you can effectively support individuals with autism in developing their skills and independence. Remember to collaborate closely with ABA professionals to ensure the best outcomes for the individual's growth and development.

Factors to Consider

When implementing ABA prompt hierarchy, it is important to consider several factors that can influence the effectiveness of the intervention. These factors include individual abilities and preferences, task complexity, and generalization and maintenance.

Individual Abilities and Preferences

Every individual with autism is unique, with their own set of abilities, preferences, and learning styles. When determining the appropriate prompt level within the ABA prompt hierarchy, it is crucial to consider the individual's specific needs and characteristics.

Some individuals may respond better to certain types of prompts, such as physical prompts or verbal prompts, while others may find gestural prompts or visual prompts more effective. Understanding the individual's strengths and preferences can help tailor the intervention to maximize their learning potential.

Task Complexity

The complexity of the task at hand is another important factor to consider when determining the appropriate prompt level. Some tasks may be relatively simple and require minimal prompting, while others may be more complex and necessitate higher levels of support. It is crucial to assess the task complexity and break it down into smaller, manageable steps. By doing so, you can determine the appropriate prompt level for each step, ensuring that the individual can successfully complete the task while gradually reducing the need for prompts.

Generalization and Maintenance

ABA prompt hierarchy not only focuses on teaching new skills but also aims to promote generalization and maintenance of those skills across various settings and situations. It is important to consider how well the individual can demonstrate the learned skills in different environments and with different people.

Generalization refers to the ability to apply the skills learned in one context to other relevant contexts, while maintenance refers to the ability to retain and continue using those skills over time. By incorporating generalization and maintenance strategies into the intervention plan, you can increase the likelihood of the individual independently using the learned skills in real-life situations.

Considering these factors alongside the individual's specific needs and preferences will help determine the most appropriate prompt level within the ABA prompt hierarchy. Remember, the goal is to gradually fade the prompts over time, promoting independence and skill acquisition. By consistently assessing and adjusting the prompt level based on these factors, you can optimize the effectiveness of the intervention and support the individual's progress.

Tips for Successful Implementation

Implementing ABA prompt hierarchy effectively plays a crucial role in promoting skill development and independence for individuals with autism. Here are some important tips to ensure successful implementation of ABA prompt hierarchy:

Consistency and Repetition

Consistency is key when it comes to ABA prompt hierarchy. It is important to consistently apply the appropriate prompt level, ensuring that the individual receives the necessary support to successfully complete the task. This consistency helps to establish a predictable routine and reinforces learning.

Repetition is another important aspect of successful implementation. By repeatedly providing prompts and allowing the individual to practice the desired skill, you are reinforcing their understanding and increasing their chances of independent performance. Regular practice and repetition are essential for skill acquisition and retention.

Continuous Data Collection

Data collection is an integral part of ABA therapy and helps to track progress and make informed decisions. It is crucial to collect data consistently and accurately to monitor the individual's progress and identify areas that require further support or adjustments.

When implementing ABA prompt hierarchy, it is important to record data on prompt levels used, the individual's response, and any progress or challenges observed. This data provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of the prompt hierarchy and guides decision-making for future interventions.

Collaboration with ABA Professionals

Collaborating with ABA professionals is highly beneficial when implementing ABA prompt hierarchy. These professionals have the training and expertise to guide you through the process and provide valuable insights and recommendations.

Working closely with ABA professionals allows for ongoing assessment of the individual's needs, adjustment of prompt levels, and modification of strategies as required. They can also provide guidance on specific prompt types, such as physical prompts, verbal prompts, gestural prompts, and visual prompts, as well as the concept of least-to-most prompting.

Collaboration with ABA professionals ensures that the prompt hierarchy is tailored to the individual's specific needs and goals. They can also provide guidance on how to fade prompts gradually and promote independent functioning over time.

By following these tips for successful implementation, you can maximize the effectiveness of ABA prompt hierarchy and support the individual's progress towards independence and skill development. Remember, consistency, continuous data collection, and collaboration with ABA professionals are key elements in achieving success in ABA therapy.


Is ABA prompt hierarchy only used for children with autism?

While ABA therapy is commonly used to help children with autism, prompt hierarchy can be used to teach new skills and behaviors to individuals of all ages and abilities.

How do you know which level of prompt to use?

The level of prompt used will depend on the individual needs of the child. The therapist will assess the child's current skill level and determine which level of support is appropriate. As the child becomes more proficient at a particular skill or behavior, the therapist will gradually reduce the level of support provided.

Can parents or caregivers use prompt hierarchy at home?

Yes, parents and caregivers can use prompt hierarchy at home to help their child learn new skills and behaviors. It is important to work closely with your child's therapist to ensure that you are using the appropriate level of support and providing consistent feedback.

What happens if my child becomes too reliant on prompts?

If a child becomes too reliant on prompts, it may be necessary to adjust the therapy plan and/or reduce the level of support provided. The goal of ABA therapy is to help children become independent learners, so it is important to monitor progress closely and make adjustments as needed.

How long does it typically take for a child to learn a new skill or behavior using prompt hierarchy?

The length of time it takes for a child to learn a new skill or behavior using prompt hierarchy will vary depending on several factors, including the complexity of the task, the individual needs of the child, and how consistently therapy is being implemented. Some skills may be learned quickly, while others may take several weeks or months.


ABA prompt hierarchy is an important aspect of ABA therapy for children with autism. By providing just enough support to help the child succeed, but not so much that they become reliant on it, prompt hierarchy can help accelerate the learning process and build confidence in the child's abilities. If you are considering ABA therapy for your child, be sure to ask your therapist about their use of prompt hierarchy and how it can benefit your child.