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How to reduce problem behavior in children with ASD

3-step prompting is a proven method to reduce problem behavior and promote positive social behaviors in children with autism disorder. The steps below can be implemented at home, in school or in the community. However, consistency is key. If a problem behavior is addressed in the same manner, using 3-step prompting, in all instances, the effectiveness of this method increases.

Preparing for 3-step prompting

Before beginning 3-step prompting, there are a few things you should do:

  • Have your reinforcer (aka reward) ready. This should be something that your child likes or wants. For example, if your child likes to play games on the computer, computer playtime would be a great reinforcer. It’s also always a good idea to participate in the reinforcing activity. Lastly, just as consequences should fit the crime, the reward should match with what your child is accomplishing.
  • Have your consequences ready and make sure your kiddo is clear on what the consequences are and how she or he can avoid them. Always know what you are going to do next in responding to noncompliance.
  • Remind your child of the reward by using If you do _____________, then you will receive_____________. In ABA we call this the Premack principle. An example would be, eat your peas and then you can have dessert.
  • Be aware of patterns. Does your child exhibit non-compliant behavior when she or he is tired? Is there a time of day that problematic behavior is more frequent? Plan ahead to deal with these particularly difficult times. For example, you can use a schedule so your child knows what to expect.

Implementing 3-step prompting with your child

So, you’re ready! You’ve identified the problematic behaviors you want to address. Also, you have chosen your reinforcers and consequences and made them clear to your child. You’ve also taken notes on when those behaviors occur frequently and have a plan to work through them. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Step 1: Clearly give the instruction. For example, “eat your peas.” Give the child five seconds to comply. If she or he complies, enthusiastically present them with the reward! If they do not comply, or exhibit any non-compliant behavior, move on to step two.
  • Step 2: Clearly give the instruction and a gestural or modeled prompt. Give the instruction again and this time, look over or point towards the activity or model the desired behavior. For example, “eat your peas.” (point to the peas.) If they comply, give subtle, or verbal, praise. If they do not, move on to step three.
  • Step 3: Clearly give the instruction and a full physical prompt. Give the instruction then physically guide the child to complete the task. One popular physical prompt is a hand-over-hand prompt where you would place your hand over the child’s hand and guide them to eating their peas. You should not stop the guidance until the task is finished. At this point, do not reinforce, or reward the behavior but acknowledge that the behavior was completed. For example, “that’s eating your peas,” said in a neutral tone.

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