The Step Up, Step Down Strategy
A Step up/Step down approach to teaching children considers each child and their learning needs.
Step up /Step Down is a strategy that is incorporates a range of prompts and adaptations to activities so that each element of the activity is easily adapted to suit your child. It is an approach that is individualised to suit your child’s learning needs. The Step Up/ Step Down strategy provides parents with advice on how to adapt each element of an activity and how to incorporate prompts if required so that your child can achieve the skill at their own pace.
When we Step Down we made need to consider extra prompting to support stepping back up.
Sometimes if children don’t understand what we are asking them to say or do, or if they find it hard to emit the sound, word or action that we want them to, they can become frustrated and distressed by the interaction.
How can we prompt our children to support them during times of frustration.?
If we see signs or signals of distress, it may be helpful to introduce a prompt to support your child.
See below types of prompts and descriptions of how to use them.
Types of Prompts
Full Physical (Hand over Hand)
Partial Physical (Tip at wrist, tip at elbow, tip at shoulder)
Model (Say nothing and just show)
Echoic (Full vocal verbal word/sound e.g. “Mama” “Dada” “cat” “doggie” )
Partial Echoic ( “ma”, “mm”)
Verbal Instructions (Tell child how to do an action ) For example: “First do this, then do ….look at Mammy…look at Daddy, put the block on the white one, look like this, do what Mammy does” etc… etc.. Verbal Instructions (Tell a child to say a sound or word) For example “Say Mama, say Mama “ , look a cat, say cat, say c…a…..t….. see the cat, say cat….)
The verbal instructions prompt is one that we use a lot but is actually a prompt that can cause frustration and distress. If we give a child too many verbal instructions, we may be overloading them with too much verbal input. If they are struggling to process our verbal input, they may grow frustrated or distressed. They may begin to find interactions aversive and they may begin to try and avoid certain activities. It may be better to use Non-Verbal prompts or simple echoics when teaching new actions, sounds or words.
When to Use Non-Verbal Prompts and Simple (Verbal Prompts) Echoics.
Use prompts if your child finds it hard to do the action or say the word that you want them to.
Use the prompt the best supports the skill (word/action) you are teaching your child. Children benefit from full physical or full echoic prompts when encountering a new word or action for the first time.
The most important thing to note about introducing prompts is always remember to fade them.
Children like adults will have good days and bad days. The Step Up/Step Down strategy is a good strategy to use to support children who are showing signs of frustration during any activity. As a parent you are always best placed to read the signals that your child is sending you. Always remember that you can go back to implementing the Step Up/Step Down strategy on the days your child may be under the weather or anytime that they may be showing you signs of frustration during an activity. This may need to change when u send you pieces back.
Example of Using a Fading scale for Physical Prompts:
Skill :Putting a block on top of another block
Use a Physical Prompt for a Physical Skill
Full Prompt: Put your hand over your child’s hand to support them to put the block on top of another block. If they do the skill with the prompt, praise them for completing the skill.
1st Fade: Next time direct your child to do this action by gently tipping your fingers to their wrist and gently guide the action from there. If they do the skill with this prompt, praise your child for completing the skill. If they cannot complete the skill, go back to the full prompt.
2nd Fade: Next time direct your child to the skill by placing your fingers at your child’s elbow and guide the action from that place. If they do the skill with this prompt, praise your child for completing the skill. If they cannot complete the skill, go back to the 1st fade prompt.
3rd Fade: Next time wait and see if your child can do the skill without a prompt, if they show signs of an attempt, but are still showing signs of uncertainty, you can gently prompt them by a touch at the shoulder, or go back to the previous prompt if you feel they need that one. Praise your child for completing the skill.
Full Fade : When your child completes the skill independently, Give the praise and label what they did (e.g. “Well done, you put the block on all by your self !!)
Keep Watch Out: for signs of frustration or distress. Don’t worry about reverting to previous prompts, if you feel they need that support. You can always fade the prompts back out again as they show independence up and down the prompting scale.
What Next? When your child has reached independence with this skill, it may be time to move on to a higher level of that skill. (For example, adding more blocks independently; place two blocks on top, then three on top etc…) Keep the prompt fading scale in mind with all new skills, and move up and down the scale as needed.
Example of Using a Fading scale for Verbal Prompts:
Skill :Saying “Mama”
Use a Verbal for a Verball Skill
Full Prompt: (Echoic) If you child is reaching to you and making any sounds at all. You say the full word “Mama” and pick them up/or tickle or smile and verbal interaction. Keep doing this until you start to hear your child making approximations of the word “Mama” e.g (mmmmm aaaa, )
1st Fade :If your child is reaching towards you and making an “mmmm” sound. You say the full sound (Prompt and Positive Reinforcement) “mmmmmamamammaaaa” and pick them up/or tickle or smile and verbal interaction
2nd Fade: If your child is reaching towards you and making an “mmmmaaaa” sound. You say “mmmmaaaa that’s right it’s Mama, Mama”and pick them up/or tickle or smile and lots of verbal feedback .Repeat this interaction a number of times if you keep hearing the sound
3rd Fade: Each time you hear “mmmaaaa” Repeat back “maaaamaaaa” Lift up and Tickle/Smile/Verbal Feedback. Keep repeating “maaamaaa” over time.
Full Fade: When you hear “mama” from your child, the first time, be very very excited and make sure you give lots positive reinforcement (lift/tickle/verbal feedback).From then on only give the positive reinforcement when you hear the full sound. You can prompt them to make the sound “maaamaaa” give them a chance to make the full sound, and praise them for that,
Watch Out: for signs of frustration or distress. Don’t worry about reverting to previous prompts, if you feel they need that support. You can always fade the prompts back out again as they show independence up and down the prompting scale.
What Next? When your child has reached independence with this skill, it’s time to move on to more words (dada, doggie, etc…) (Keep the prompt fading scale in mind with all new skills, and move up and down the scale as needed.