What Is Prompting Hierarchy in ABA Therapy?

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You might be wondering how to begin ABA therapy for your child if you are new to it. Here is a brief introduction on why the hierarchy is important and what’s involved in using that system.

The “prompt hierarchy aba definition” is a term that refers to the order in which therapists will ask questions during an ABA therapy session. This helps children learn when it’s appropriate to answer, and when they should wait.


An ABA therapist will prompt the client on what to do next to teach new abilities via behavior chaining. There are numerous sorts of prompting available, each of which is organized into a hierarchy.

Most-to-least and least-to-most prompting hierarchies are the most popular. The objective of any prompting-based behavior training is to assist the client in mastering the skill to the point where they no longer need prompting.

What Exactly Is Prompting?

Prompting is a part of behavior chaining, an applied behavior analysis method to skill development (ABA). Breaking down a job into its basic components is known as behavior chaining.

Brushing your teeth correctly, for example, begins with picking up the toothbrush, toothpaste, removing the cap from the toothpaste, squeezing some paste onto the brush, and so on. Breaking down a skill into smaller jobs allows each link in the chain to make sense in its right sequence.

People with autism have a hard difficulty picking up new habits or abilities, such as brushing their teeth. They could, for example, neglect to put toothpaste on the toothbrush. To assist with this, behavior chaining is often used in ABA treatment.

What Are the Different Prompting Hierarchies?

Behavior chaining may be used to teach a wide range of abilities, from basic to complicated.

An ABA therapist will work with their client, usually a youngster on the autistic spectrum, to begin the process of chaining actions together by utilizing prompting for the next portion of the task. Prompts are ordered in a hierarchy from least to most (LTM) or most to least (MTL).

  • Prompting from the bottom to the top: The ABA therapist may review each stage of a new skill with the child before the behavior chaining session, but the major portion of each behavior chaining session begins with the kid reacting independently to each step. The therapist may provide some suggestions for the following section, but they will be brief.

  • If the youngster need additional assistance while learning the task, prompts may become more obtrusive. There will still be some time between prompts for the youngster to answer and figure out the next step on their own.

  • MTL prompting begins with a lot of engagement between the ABA therapist and the child, while LTM prompting begins with less teaching. The therapist may, for example, lay their hands on the child’s hands and guide them through each phase of the procedure so they understand how the skill feels. The therapist will then be less intrusive and engaged with prompting in subsequent sessions. They may, for example, move their hands as the kid should, but they will not lead the child’s hands for them.

  • The therapist will use less invasive prompts as the kid learns the behavior chain more completely in sessions, until the child no longer requires prompting.

In most situations, children on the autistic spectrum acquire new abilities quicker with the MTL prompting hierarchy than with the LTM, according to a 2008 research. By adding a time delay between each cue, the children in the research were able to reply on their own, resulting in even faster skill learning. An LTM prompting hierarchy, however, benefited children who already had a talent but required refining or who exhibited quick skill learning with MTL, according to the research authors.

Finally, the prompting hierarchy is determined by the child’s specific needs and abilities. Early sessions with MTL may be used to evaluate the child’s requirements, but subsequent sessions with various prompting hierarchies for other abilities may be used.

Hierarchy of More-to-Less Prompting

Intrusive gestures, words, or other stimuli are utilized to direct the kid through the activity and onto the next to create the full process for a given skill with most-to-least prompting. This entails constructing a skill checklist to track the skill’s progress through each stage and session.

Learning to put on a jacket, for example, may entail:

  • Taking the jacket from the hanger or from the closet.

  • I’m keeping it upright.

  • It’s being unzipped.

  • Into the right sleeve with the right arm.

  • Shifting the jacket to the back.

  • Into the left sleeve with the left arm.

  • Assuring that the hands can easily exit the cuffs.

  • The jacket is being zipped up.

The ABA therapist may begin the MTL prompting hierarchy by guiding the kid’s hands as they do each step so that the child learns how it feels to put on the jacket. The therapist may utter the phrases for each step out loud as they help you through it. The therapist may then just state each step out loud in the following session unless the youngster need more assistance.

During each session, the therapist will suggest less often until the kid understands how to put on their jacket step by step.

Hierarchy of Less-to-More Prompting

ABA therapists that use the LTM prompting hierarchy start by selecting the goal skill or behavior they want the child to learn and detailing the steps needed to master it. The therapist must next choose the target stimulus that will encourage the kid to continue using the behavior outside of the treatment session rather than associating it with the therapist or the therapy session. This is included into the behavior chain.

When learning to correctly wash one’s hands, for example, the stimulus may be that the child’s hands are filthy or that they are ready to sit down and enjoy a meal. Unlike MTL, LTM requires determining which sort of prompting to employ if the kid needs assistance with the following step. Some examples are:

  • Manipulation of materials or the environment to generate a stimulus that suggests the kid must perform the task, such as hand washing.

  • Telling the kid it’s snack time, putting up a cue card with a picture of hands being washed, and asking the youngster to recognize the action are all examples of task guidance.

  • A natural occurrence, such as the kid getting their hands filthy while participating in an ABA treatment activity like painting.

After the kid has been instructed to wash their hands, the ABA therapist waits for them to do so without urging. LTM is effective for children who already know certain stages in a task, such as washing their hands, but need further prompting to complete it correctly. For example, the therapist could have the kid count out loud to 20, then wash their hands for 20 seconds with soap.

Behavioral chaining relies heavily on prompting hierarchies.

It is critical for ABA therapists to avoid skipping stages in any prompting hierarchy since relearning the procedure may be challenging. Therapists should also keep to the strategy when it comes to the sort of prompting hierarchy to employ and when it comes to fading. Interrupting the kind of prompting with a more or less intrusive type might alter how the kid learns the skill or cause them to learn a step incorrectly.

These prompting hierarchies are effective in ABA treatment and help many autistic children master a variety of abilities. This covers abilities like writing letters, engaging with other children on the playground, and keeping a calendar, as well as everyday routines like cleaning teeth and getting dressed.


In New Zealand, prompting is being used as an evidence-based strategy to support children with ASD in school settings. (2013). Kairaranga.

On the Acquisition of Solitary Play Skills, a Comparison of Most-to-Least and Least-to-Most Prompting Spring of 2008. International Association of Behavior Analysis (ABAI).

Using the Least to Most Prompts System Project on Dual Sensory Impairment in Nevada. Reno’s University of Nevada.

Implementation Steps: Least-to-Most Prompts (Autumn 2010). Autism Spectrum Disorders National Professional Development Center

The “cooper aba prompt hierarchy” is a technique that is used in ABA therapy. It allows the therapist to quickly see how well the child is progressing, and it also helps to keep the sessions on track.

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