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Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Fading The School Aide

By Vincent LaMarca, BCBA
Lovaas Institute – Indianapolis

Here's a common school myth: providing a child with an aide in school leads to prompt dependency. In fact, research suggests the opposite is true. An aide in school can lead to greater independence. Consider that children in the best outcome groups of Lovaas 1987, Sallows 2005, and Cohen 2006 started in school with an aide who had been active in the home program (see for references). These aides were eventually faded so that the children continued in a general education classroom on their own.

Not all children reach a level at which an aide can be completely faded. Finding the balance between providing the help a child needs to be successful and allowing the space a child needs to be more independent requires constant evaluation. Prompting and fading are some of the most difficult tasks to plan for because there are so many variations of what might happen. However, over the years I have collected a number of guidelines that have proven helpful, particularly if an aide is demonstrating difficulty knowing when and where to fade. I've included these guidelines as well as an example data sheet below.

Prompting and fading are as much an art as they are a science. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you refine your clinical judgment and capture pertinent data that shows progress in fading a school aide when appropriate.

Before Fading The Aide

1. Write down the current skill level of the child when the aide is present. What does the child do well when the aide is present? You can write this in narrative format or in bullet format. For example, for a sewing class, you might say:

  • The child completes at least 50% of the activity, sometimes with model prompts, that the class completes.
  • The child engages in low to zero levels of vocal self-stimulatory behavior.
  • The child responds to the teacher and peers when they talk directly to her.
  • The child follows class instructions with an occasional verbal prompt to "listen to the teacher."

This narrative/bullets helps remind us of the level she is capable of when the aide is next to her and can quickly and easily prompt.

2. Determine on which behaviors you will immediately intervene, regardless of trying to fade the aide. For example, the aide will immediately intervene if:

  • The child attempts to pick her nose.
  • The child jumps up and down in her seat.

Part of allowing for more independence means you also allow for more mistakes. However, we want to be clear what behaviors or skill loss is not acceptable.

3. Write down a basic prompt hierarchy from the least to most intrusive prompts (i.e., what's the minimal prompt you might be able to give her). One prompt may sometimes be more intrusive than another, but there is an overall progression from what results in the most intrusion by you to what results in the least intrusion. In my experience, the following prompt hierarchy is common:

  • Call attention to/ask a peer or the teacher to help the child rather than having the aide intervene.
  • Walk in front of the child from as far away as possible to gain her eye contact/use nonverbal cues.
  • Walk closer to the child.
  • Tap the child on the shoulder.
  • Point to her peers or the teacher.
  • Model what to do.
  • Physically guide her.
  • Tell her what to do.
  • Remain next to the child for an extended period so you can intervene immediately.

During The Activity

4. No longer implement most-to-least prompting (i.e., keeping the child successful). Instead, implement least-to-most prompting (i.e., giving a chance for the child to try on her own and possibly make a mistake, deal with consequences, have others help, and figure things out on her own). Her success may decrease somewhat as a result.

5. Before prompting the child, count to 15. Give that long for things to work themselves out without you.

6. Everyday ask, "Was the child successful at least 80% of the time?" If so, then you MUST do less to help out the next day.

After The Activity

7. Collect data on how much prompting is occurring and how well she is doing on her own. Some potential data collection includes:

  • How much time (in 5 minute increments) is the aide able to be at least 6 feet away from the child and out of her sight?
  • How many prompts did the aide deliver to the child (if that's easier to record).
  • If the aide is never able to be away from the child for 5 minutes, what prompts were able to be faded?
  • What's the basic percentage of success the child had during the activity? A helpful way to calculate this is to look at the bullets you have for her current skill level (step one above). Starting at one hundred percent, subtract a fixed twenty percent for each skill she did not demonstrate during the session. For example, if she did not demonstrate two of the current skills in sewing (she did not respond individually to peers until the aide walked closer and she only completed a quarter of the work with the class instead of half of the work like she usually does), then subtract forty percent. Her basic percentage of success is 60%. (Remember, if this number is 80%, then the aide MUST do less the next day.)
  • Any miscellaneous comments?

8. Don't worry about day-to-day data when looking for trends because there can be so many variations in the activity. Instead, look at the data from week to week and see if there is gradual improvement.

9. Every two weeks to a month, reassess what her current skill was prior to starting to fade the aide, what she is doing now and how involved the aide currently is.

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