Step 2.5 Use clear, natural, and varied prompts

Once the toddler is attending, parents and practitioners use brief and clear instructions. These instructional antecedents should mirror naturally occurring cues and prompts as much as possible.


When a toddler indicates he wants to turn the water on at the sink, a parent or practitioner can teach the toddler to request to turn it on (when the toddler has not yet acquired the word “water”) by prompting the toddler simply with the verbal model, “water.”  There is no need to prompt with, “Say water.” Likewise, saying a long phrase, such as, “Okay, Logan, just say water!” is not an appropriate instructional antecedent for teaching first words with PRT.

The most commonly used PRT prompting strategies, or instructional antecedents, from most assistance to least assistance, and from least independent to most independent, are:

  • model prompts
  • chioces
  • open-ended questions or statements and
  • time delays.

Model Prompts

The full model is used to prompt the child to respond with an imitation of the model. In order to increase rapid independence, partial prompts can be used to fade full models.


Providing choices is another motivational procedure (see Step 2.2 for more on choices) and is an important prompting strategy. Choices contain two models for the toddler to choose between and can prompt the toddler to imitate one of them (and not the other) and/or engage in one of the response choices (and not the other). Careful and systematic teaching of choices is also useful for reducing immediate echolalia and indiscriminate choice making (e.g., the toddler simply repeats the last part of the choice). See Koegel and Lazebnik (2004, pp. 56 - 59) for simple solutions for reducing immediate echolalia and increasing accurate choice making in verbal children with autism.

Open-ended questions or statements

Open-ended questions, such as Wh- questions can be immediately faded into prompting strategies as the toddler acquires various words or communicative acts. If a toddler already asks to go outside by approximating the word “outside,” a model prompt is not necessary. A choice, question, or time delay will help a toddler become more spontaneous with their communication. Example questions could be, “What do you want?” or “Where should we go?” or “What would you like to do?

Be careful providing too many close-ended questions that result in yes or no answers, unless this is a specific objective. These yes or no questions limit the toddler’s chances of practicing more meaningful and varied verbal skills. You can also make open-ended statements that would prompt a different but similar statement or a question from the child. For instance, upon taking the letter puzzle piece “A” from a container, you say, “I got A!,” which provides a verbal cue for the toddler to say, “I got [ the letter the toddler picked ]!” when they take a letter on their turn. Similarly, you can take a letter and hide it in their hands, and say, “I got a letter!” as an opportunity for the child to ask, “What letter?”

Time delays

Time delay prompts involve minimal immediate actions on the part of the parent or practitioner. Time delays involve waiting for a brief period (e.g., 3-5 seconds) prior to providing more assistance. For instance, if the toddler wants his father to roll the ball back to her, and the father has been providing the model “ball” to prompt the request, the father might instead pause and wait expectantly for a few seconds. If his toddler says “ball” independently during that pause, the father should roll the ball back as he recasts, “roll ball!” If his toddler does not respond, then the father can provide more assistance by: modeling the word, asking if he should “roll ball or roll car,” (while showing each option) or simply asking her what he should roll, “What should I roll?”