What do you mean by prompt dependence?
Have you ever had a student who cannot do anything independently because they are waiting for you to tell them what to do? That student has learned to depend on prompts. It can be very frustrating because you know that they know what they are supposed to be doing, however they still wait for you to tell them to do it. This needs to be nipped in the bud before it gets to this point. So, let’s review the 5 steps you need to take in order to avoid this in your classroom.
Step 1- Establish Visual Schedules
One of the first things I do before the school year begins is to decide what type of visual schedule each student in my class will need. A visual schedule can be as simple as a written sequence of their day or as complex as an object schedule. Don’t get me wrong.. establishing individual schedules in a self-contained autism class is HARD, especially if you have a low teacher to student ratio like I do. Take into account how many students and paraprofessionals you will have. If you are lucky enough to have an almost 1:1 ratio, a visual wall schedule for each student should work. I personally have up to 8 students with only me and one other assistant, sometimes two. It was difficult to keep up with all the individual wall schedules, so this year I decided to keep it simple with a first work, then _____ schedule for my students that needed visuals. Keep it simple! If it is too much to keep up with, your students will end up having no visual schedule at all!
Step 2- Post Visual Routines
The second thing I do is post visuals for each routine my students will need to do daily. This includes handwashing, bathroom, lining up, unpacking, packing up, getting supplies for work tasks, and more depending on your classroom setup. You can check out my visual classroom routines here:
Step 3- Create and Wear a Visual Behavior Expectations Necklace
I swear this thing is magical! I wear this around my neck so that it is always accessible. Make sure you make multiple sets so that you can give to your paras and other gen ed teachers if they ask for one (believe me, once they see it used they will want one too!). Pictures that I have on my necklace include sit in chair, quiet voice, stand up, put in trash, sit on floor, line up and more depending on the needs of my students that year. I have also found that kiddos in gen ed are intrigued by what I wear around my neck and it starts good conversations about how students with autism learn differently.
Step 4- Train Staff on How to Use the Visuals
Why are we setting up all of these visuals and how does it reduce prompt dependence? Because the next, most important step is- DO NOT USE YOUR VOICE! Verbal prompts are the hardest to fade away and this is when student’s get prompt dependent. Use the visuals, not your voice! I cannot repeat that enough. Students with autism are very sensitive to sound already and they also have difficulty processing language. The visuals are there-so use them. When the student is not unpacking, gently guide them from behind to your beautiful unpacking visual schedule and point to the step they need to complete. Is your student humming during gen ed inclusion? Show them the quiet voice visual instead of drawing more attention to the behavior. My biggest pet peeve is when you have 2 or 3 different adults telling a kiddo to wash there hands. Use the visuals!!
Step 5- Keep Yourself and Staff Accountable
I understand that it is not natural to point to a picture instead of verbally telling a child to do something. Sometimes I slip up to. That is why you need to keep each other accountable. I tell my assistant all the time- I am not perfect. Remind me too to use the visuals. Sometimes you get caught up in the moment and forget. As long as you have that conversation with your staff, everyone will help each other use the visuals!!