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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

What is Modeling: Tips for Using Modeling in Applied Behavior Analysis

What is Modeling

Modeling is an evidence-based practice found to be effective for helping individuals with autism spectrum disorder (Sam, 2016. Modeling).

Modeling is a type of response prompt.

A response prompt impacts a person’s behavior or their response. This is in comparison to a stimulus prompt which impacts stimuli present prior to the behavior (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2014).

Modeling is basically when one person shows the ideal behavior to another person. They may do this intentionally or unintentionally.

In order for the observer to learn from the behavior of the person doing the modeling, it is ideal if they have imitation skills – that is, that the person can copy what someone else does at least to some degree. However, there are prompts and strategies that can be used to help the learner improve on both imitation skills and his ability to learn from a model.

Precursor Skills for Modeling

When expecting a learner to demonstrate some new behavior, it is always important to consider whether they can or are able to learn the parts of that behavior.

Think of it like a behavior chain. If a learner is not physically able to one of the single behaviors within that chain, they are much less likely to display a behavior demonstrated through modeling.

According to an example provided in the One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum by Heather Gilmore (2019), one example of the necessity of considering precursor skills is the following:

“if one of the goals for a child is to learn how to do the dishes, that child must have the ability to reach to the distance of the faucet to turn it on, they must be able to simultaneously hold a washcloth or scrubby in one hand while holding the dish in the other hand, and the child must be able to withstand the sensation of bubbles and the temperature of the water. Without these skills, modeling how to do the dishes to the child will likely result in inaccuracies, dependence on prompts, and/or maladaptive behaviors.”

Attending as a Necessary Behavior

Learners who can attend to identified stimuli in their environment are more likely to learn through the use of modeling.

The learner should be able to provide his attention to the person doing the modeling and then attend to specific actions of the teacher. It is ideal if the learner can provide his attention on demand.

Another example provided within the One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum regarding the relevance of attending skills for learning through modeling is the following:

“If you are demonstrating to a child (modeling) how to tie a shoe, the child must attend to the appropriate aspects of your hands, what your fingers are doing, and what is happening to the laces of the shoe. Some kids may instead look toward your face, your arms, or even away from you as you are trying to model how to tie a shoe.”

Types of Modeling

There are multiple types of modeling that can be used.

Modeling can be completed through the following methods:

  • Parent Modeling (the parent demonstrates the target behavior)
  • Peer Modeling (a similar-aged individual demonstrates the target behavior)
  • Video Modeling (the learner watches the target behavior being demonstrated via video)

What to Use with Modeling

To provide the learner with optimal chance of success, it is recommended that you provide the use of reinforcement and prompting when needed (Sam, 2016. Modeling).

A Prime or A Prompt?

The modeled behavior can be used as a prime or a prompt. When used as a prime, the target behavior is demonstrated to the child before the child is expected to attempt the behavior.

When used as a prompt, the peer or adult can provide extra assistance and support to the child after the child is expected to display the behavior. They can model the complete behavior or just part of the behavior.

Modeling & Its Benefits

Modeling can help a learner in many ways. Some examples of skills that can be improved with the use of modeling include the following (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2014; Sam, 2016. Modeling):

  • academics,
  • social skills,
  • communication skills,
  • joint attention,
  • school readiness,
  • play skills,
  • vocational skills,
  • self-management

Consider the above tips and strategies for using modeling as a teaching tool. If you’d like to obtain a parent handout on modeling, consider obtaining the One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum to get a modeling handout as well as many (26-to-be-exact) other ABA parent training handouts.

What is Modeling: Tips for Using Modeling in Applied Behavior Analysis

Heather Gilmore, MSW, BCBA

Heather is a freelance writer, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and social worker. Heather takes interest in topics related to parenting, children, families, personal development, health and wellness, applied behavior analysis, as well as Autism, ADHD, Depression and Anxiety. Contact Heather if you would like to inquire about obtaining her freelance writing services. You can view more articles and resources from Heather at and email her at [email protected] You can also advertise your autism services at one of Heather's websites: Heather is the developer of the "One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum."


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APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2020). What is Modeling: Tips for Using Modeling in Applied Behavior Analysis. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from