Time delay procedures are a valuable instructional technique in education and behavioral intervention to promote independent learning and reduce prompt dependency.
Purpose: Time delay is employed to help learners acquire new skills or behaviors by gradually reducing the level of assistance provided. It enables the learner to respond independently by increasing the time between the presentation of a cue or instruction and the delivery of a prompt.
Step 1 - Initial Prompt: The procedure begins with the instructor or therapist presenting a clear and explicit prompt to the learner. Depending on the learner's needs and target behavior, this prompt can take various forms, such as verbal instructions, physical guidance, or visual cues. This can be referred to as a zero-second delay.
Step 2 - Gradual Delay: After providing the initial prompt, the instructor introduces a delay or waiting period before delivering the prompt again. The delay can vary in duration and may start with just a few seconds. There are two types: constant and progressive. See the example regarding Mrs. T teaching Ty to tell time.
Step 3 - Independent Response: The ultimate goal of time delay is for the learner to respond correctly and independently during the delay period without the need for the prompt.
Errorless Learning: Time delay minimizes the chances of the learner making errors because they receive prompts as needed, ensuring that they consistently engage in the correct behavior.
Reduced Prompt Dependency: By gradually fading prompts, time delay helps learners become less reliant on external assistance and more self-reliant in performing the targeted skills.
Promotes Independence: This technique fosters learner independence by allowing them to take more responsibility for their actions and problem-solving abilities.
Applicability: Time delay can be applied to teach a wide range of skills, including academic skills like reading and math and self-help skills like brushing teeth or dressing.
Individualization: Time delay procedures can be tailored to each learner's specific needs and abilities. The duration of the delay and the type of prompts used can be adjusted to match the learner's skill level and progress.
Data Collection: Tracking the learner's progress during time delay interventions is important. Data collection helps assess the effectiveness of the procedure and allows for adjustments to be made as needed.
Example: Mrs. T is teaching Ty to Tell time using constant and progressive time delay Note: Mrs. T is teaching a tact response using an echoic prompt.
Constant Time Delay
Suppose Mrs. T is using time delay to teach Ty to tell time. If she is using a constant time delay procedure, she will begin with a 0-sec delay.
Example: She will show Ty the clock and say, “What time is it? 10:10”;
Ty will repeat “10:10”.
After Ty reliably repeats “10:10” with the zero-second delay prompt, Mrs. T will then establish a fixed delay prompt schedule. Mrs. T will not modify the prompt schedule; it will stay at 3 seconds until this skill is mastered.
Example: If Mrs. T has set a 3-second time delay, she will show Ty the clock and say, “What time is it?” and then pause for 3 seconds before providing the prompt “10:10”. If Ty responds independently before the prompt is delivered, Mrs. Ty delivers reinforcement. If Ty does not respond before the 3 seconds is up, Mrs.T will provide the prompt “10:10” and Ty will repeat “10:10”.
Progressive time delay
Suppose Mrs. T is using time delay to teach Ty to tell time. If she is using a progressive time delay procedure, she will begin with a 0-sec delay.
Example: Mrs. T will show Ty the clock and say, “What time is it? 10:10”;
Ty will repeat “10:10”.
After Ty reliably repeats “10:10” with the zero-second delay prompt, Mrs. T will gradually and systematically increase delay.
Example: If Mrs. T plans to start with a 3-second time delay, she will show Ty the clock and say, “What time is it?” and then pause for 3 seconds before providing the prompt “10:10”. If Ty responds independently before the prompt is delivered, Mrs. Ty delivers reinforcement. If Ty does not respond before the 3 seconds is up, Mrs. T will provide the prompt “10:10,” and Ty will repeat “10:10”. After Ty is able to tact the time on the clock without any prompts, Mrs. T might increase the delay to 5 seconds, and then 7 seconds, and so on, until Ty is able to tact the time independently.
Time delay procedures are a valuable tool in the field of special education and behavior analysis, helping individuals acquire important skills while fostering independence and reducing prompt dependency.
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Dr. Trudy Georgio is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Licensed Behavior Analyst in the state of Texas. She is the founder of Tru Behavior Development, LLC who is motivated by effecting socially significant behavior change and disseminating the science of behavior to the next generation of behavior analysts!
Browder, D., Ahlgrim-Delzell, L., Spooner, F., Mims, P. J., & Baker, J. N. (2009). Using time delay to teach literacy to students with severe developmental disabilities. Exceptional Children, 75(3), 343–364. https://doi.org/10.1177/001440290907500305
Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2019). Applied Behavior Analysis (3rd Edition). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education.
Touchette, P. E. (1971). Transfer of stimulus control: Measuring the moment of transfer. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 15(3), 347–354. https://doi.org/10.1901/jeab.1971.15-347