Horse for Prompt Dependency

February 13, 2017

In many of my previous posts I whined about Robert being too prompt dependent. I complained that as soon as I leave Robert alone with the worksheet, he stops working and waits for my return.  I tried to make the tasks simpler.   I went over the worksheets with Robert.  After he  answered every question orally  I let him  write down the answers he had just practiced.  It didn’t help.  I reduced the number of questions.  It didn’t help. Every time, I left Robert alone with the problems he stopped working.  He waited for me not to tell him the answer, but to encourage him with nothing more than,  “Go on”.

 It seemed that my words of encouragement were the switch that could turn on his brain.  He would think when I asked him to think.

I realized that prompt dependency is not just the function of not knowing and waiting for someone to give an answer or to provide more or less subtle cue.  It might be that some of the individuals are so prompt dependent that they delegate to others the right to operate the button that controls their engagement in the given activity.  I realized that as I watched Robert trying to weave his horse, Calvin, between the cones.  Robert has done that many times before.  What was new, however,  was that this time, his instructor Cindy was standing behind the rider and WAS NOT offering constant directions or words of encouragement.  Moreover, Calvin was also reluctant to follow the path because he, too, needed constant reminders to continue.  As soon as Robert lead the horse from left to right and right to left, the horse stopped.  Calvin waited for a gentle nudge from Robert’s heels and the word, “Walk”.  Robert, however, didn’t do anything as he  was also waiting for Cindy to tell him, “Make the horse walk.”  Cindy didn’t say anything.  Since, she was standing behind him, Robert couldn’t even get a clue from her body language. So he waited.  And waited. And waited.  So Calvin waited.  And waited. And waited.  It seemed like a very long time passed before Robert nudged the horse and very softly said, “Walk”.  Calvin weaved from left to right and from right to left and stopped again.  Then Calvin waited for Robert and Robert waited for Cindy.  But Cindy said nothing. Finally, Robert used his feet a couple of times to give Calvin a cue.  Calvin moved again.  From left to tight and right to left.  This pattern of behaviors repeated itself one more time before the horse and the rider reached the end of the line of street cones.

It was an eye-opening experience for me.  There were a few discoveries I made at the same time. They seemed almost too congested to pull them apart for clarity.

  1. Robert needed a prompt almost in the same way Calvin needed a prompt.
  2. At the beginning, Robert didn’t believe that he can control Calvin’s behavior the same way he let Cindy control his own actions.
  3. Robert realized that he can control Calvin himself without being prompted to do so by someone else.
  4. As Robert regained control of Calvin, he also reasserted the control of … himself.  Robert gave command to Calvin AFTER he had given a command to himself.

I am not sure if Calvin was aware of the importance of this lesson for Robert.  Cindy, however, was very aware.  Just a few weeks before, we talked about Robert’s prompt dependency and she understood the nature of Robert’s problem much better than I.  She knew how to design the lesson to convince Robert that he has to decide on his own what to do and that he has the ability to do so.

Of course, Calvin also helped.

Robert’s instructor, Cindy Conquest, sent me an e-mail with more detailed description of her approach.  With her permission, I copied it below. It explains the steps involved in her teaching methodology.

“To give you a little background information if you have interest: I had to build up to get Robert do this gradually. I scaffold all of his lessons in this manner. In previous weeks, we started with the cue “walk around the barrel” and he would have to walk away from me 5 feet to get around the barrel, then turn to face me and come back to me. Sometimes Calvin would stop at the barrel, but as Robert turned around he would see my face and that prompted him to ask his horse to walk back to me.
Then we shifted to “walk to letter H (or any of the letters). I started out at the letters, then moved into Robert’s peripheral vision, then eventually moved behind him.
Finally, we graduated to the cones. Robert had completed the cone task many times with prompting, and Robert had successfully walked away from me many times by then withOUT prompting, so we combined the two. What was different this time was that it took Robert almost twice as long to initiate the task again once his horse stopped walking. However, he did initiate it. Others may consider this a “waste” of time as it appeared that Robert sat for at least a few minutes silently before he initiated the task. But, Robert finally did initiate the task on his own – which made all that waiting well worth the while. “




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