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Graduated Guidance

Why do people always say, “it’s just like riding a bike!” when you are learning something new? I don’t know about you, but I am not confident on two wheels! My project for next summer will be to learn how to ride a bike (again).

I will tell you right now, I will be starting with the most amount of support and guidance as possible (based on my individual needs). My goal, however, will be to ride a bike independently before the end of summer. It may start with someone holding both myself and the bike to assist with stability, then fade to holding the bike seat and handlebars, to holding the bike seat only, and eventually to ride with no supports. But how do we go from all the help to none of the help without missing a beat? Graduated Guidance!

Physical Prompting (Refresher)

If you have read our Prompt Hierarchy post, you will notice that there is something called physical prompting. This is considered the most intrusive style of prompt, as the practitioner is physically guiding the actions of the learner.

Remember: physical prompts can be full physical (hand over hand) or partial physical (hand over elbow).

As ABA practitioners, it is our job to work ourselves out of a job! As much as possible, we want to fade contrived prompts from the environment, especially physical prompts that leave the learner dependent on another individual. How do we do this?

If my learner is learning how to print and hand over hand prompting has been used, do I just stop guiding them? Not if I want continued success!

What Is Graduated Guidance?

To successfully reduce and eliminate physical prompting, we need to fade the intensity of the prompt gradually and systematically. As a practitioner, we need to attend to the performance of the client, and always refer back to the data! As mentioned above, it may start with a full physical prompt and then go to a partial physical prompt.

That sequence may look like this: hand over hand > hand over wrist > hand over elbow (then may move away from physical prompts entirely and move to a model or gestural prompt).

Why Use Graduated Guidance?

As ABA practitioners, we want to foster independence. We want to fade prompts quickly, but not at the risk of losing the skill. Graduated guidance provides us with a system to fade the prompts at the pace that is most beneficial to the learner.

With graduated guidance, your learner will gain the skills to correctly perform the task independently. It is important to remember that small steps are successful.

How To Evaluate

When the learner meets your pre-determined mastery criteria at one prompt level, we fade to the next least intrusive method in the sequence. If the learner demonstrates mastery at this level, fade again.

What happens if they are having difficulty?
You should include revision criteria, and that may include returning to the last prompt level they were successful at. You may need to re-evaluate your mastery criteria, and fade at a more gradual pace, or increase the criteria for mastery.


Use the least amount of prompting that ensures the most amount of success!
If the learner can successfully print their name with hand over elbow prompts, do not provide them with hand over hand prompts.

Fade prompt levels within sessions!
Look at the previous day’s data – if the learner started at hand over hand, and moved to hand over wrist, DO NOT start at hand over hand. Your next session will start at a hand over wrist level of prompt, and, based on the learners’ performance and your mastery criteria, they may be able to move to hand over elbow in that same session.

Use graduated guidance on cooperative learners.
Avoid using graduated guidance on learners who are uncooperative or resistant to the physical contact. Forcing your learner is counterproductive as they are not likely to learn, and this would be ethically questionable.

Check out our YouTube video on Prompting (hint: there is more than one video, so check out our YouTube Channel: How to ABA)


4 thoughts on “Graduated Guidance”

  1. Pingback: The Prompt Hierarchy - How to ABA

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  3. Pingback: ABA Glossary - How to ABA

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