Prompt dependence comes when a student needs a prompt in order to initiate a skill or activity. Often the skill is mastered, but prompting is so much a part of the student's expectations that they will not initiate and sometimes complete an activity without adult prompting. Often this happens because the parent, therapist, teacher or teachers aide lays on the verbal prompting thick and consistently.
Example Case of Prompt Dependency
Rodney would sit and wait for Miss Eversham to tell him to start before he would begin the papers in his folder. Miss Eversham realized that Rodney had developed prompt dependency, relying on her giving verbal prompts for him to complete his folder.
Don't Talk Too Much
Prompting is an important part of scaffolding success with special education students, starting small and working toward more complex academic, functional or vocational skills. More often than not, children who become prompt dependent are those whose classroom aides are not always attentive to the fact that they give verbal prompts for everything. In other words, they talk too much. Too often, students get stuck on the continuum of prompts at the verbal prompt level and require the teacher to verbally direct them in order for them to complete the task or skill.
Students can even be stuck at the hand over hand level -- some students even need to take the teacher or aides hand and place it on their own hand before using scissors or even attempting to write with a writing utensil.
"Fading" for Independence
In each of the cases above, the problem was the failure to attend to the level of independence the child has developed and promptly fade out the prompts. If you start with hand over hand, as soon as you can loosen or relax your grasp, move toward the next level, moving your hand from the student's hand to their wrist, to their elbow and then simply tapping the back of the hand.
For other kinds of activities, especially for students have mastered the component parts of a larger skill (such as dressing) it is possible to begin with a higher level of prompting. It is important to avoid verbal prompting if possible. Visual prompts are best, such as pictures of the student completing the activity, step by step. Once your student has clearly mastered the component parts, then employ gestural prompts alongside the verbal prompts, then withdraw or fade, the verbal prompts to finally leave only the gestural prompts, ending with independence.
Independence should always be the goal of any educational program, and moving form prompting to independence is always the goal of an ethical and proactive teacher. Be sure you are providing the kind of support that leads to independence.