In my spare time, I manage an African jazz band. They are amazingly talented musicians who have taught me the true meaning of the phrase ‘herding cats’. When I was first asked to manage the band, I saw it as an opportunity to meet new people and go to some amazing festivals. As time has gone on, I have been reminded that I really need to be flexing my ABA muscle as well. I have been fascinated to see just how similar working with the band is to working with a group of learners, staff or a family.

I knew something was up when one of the band members started referring to me as ‘Mumager’ instead of ‘Manager’. It was at this point I began looking at, and assessing, my own behaviour more closely. Was I really acting like a mum? I looked for evidence and discovered that I was doing nearly all the things I advise against when working with learners. Constantly prompting was the biggest issue I identified.

In an attempt to reduce both my prompting and save some time, I found an app that could be programmed to provide reminders. It has a built in feature to provide reminders every 6, 12, 18 or 24 hours. So now I just have to implement the use of a progressive time delay to eliminate the prompt and I should end up with people responding to the cue of receiving an event notification.

When it comes to our learners, it should be noted that there is nowhere in the literature that prompt dependency is discussed, however, both this term and ‘learned helplessness’ are frequently discussed in our learners educational settings. So often we can identify what we call prompt dependency in our learners but have more difficulty identifying the process by which prompt dependency occurs. Sometimes the difficulty can be with identifying if what we are doing is a cue or a prompt, and therefore knowing what we need to eliminate to stop helping. I suspect that another issue is that we have to admit to ourselves that it could be our own behaviour that is the cause of the prompt dependency in our learner.

When I think about why the band rely on me to do certain things (that I think they should be doing for themselves), I recognise that it is my behaviour that is impacting on theirs. I have found myself justifying my behaviour by noting ‘time constraints’, something along the lines of ‘If I hadn’t done it for them, we would have missed out on …..’ This is a phrase that I have heard often in the schools and homes of learner that I work with, my advice has always been, in the short term, to focus more on the independence than the schedule.

In thinking about it, it may have been somebody before me that caused prompt dependency in the band, just as can occur with my learners. That does not mean that I can’t be the one to do something about it. Just as I would advise the families and teachers of my learners I need to:

  • Identify the cues that should be evoking a response
  • Work out what I’m doing to prompt
  • Work out a plan to eliminate the prompts
  • Use differential reinforcement for independent responses

If you would like more information on teaching strategies, our webcast ‘The Pyramid Approach for Parents and Professionals’ is a great place to start and ‘The Pyramid Approach to Education’ Manual (2nd Edition) will provide more in depth information.

Sophie Kerr, Managing Director Pyramid Global Partners Australia