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Time Delay as an Instructional Strategy

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Time Delay is an instructional strategy that has been used to teach a variety of skills. The two types of time delay include Constant Time Delay (CTD) and Progressive Time Delay (PTD). Both procedures have been documented as effective in research studies (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

Constant Time Delay

Step 1:

Present the stimulus and immediately model the correct response.  If you are teaching a math fact, you might show the child a card that said, “4+2=” and then say, “6.” If you are teaching a sight word, you would show the word card and then immediately read the word. After several trials (repeating this procedure to teach the information) move on to step 2.

Step 2:

Present the stimulus and wait a set interval (e.g., 5 seconds) for a response. If no response or an inaccurate response occurs, tell the child the correct answer. For example, if you were teaching a child to read the word “car,” you would present the word card and wait 5 seconds. If the correct response was given, the trial ends. If no response or an incorrect response occurs, you would say the word, “car.”

Research base for Constant Time Delay

CTD has been used to teach:

  • number identification (Ault, Wolery, Gast, Doyle, & Eizenstat, 1988)
  • self-help skills (Morse & Schuster, 2000)
  • leisure skills (Wall & Gast, 1997; Wall, Gast, & Royston, 1999)
  • language skills (Kurt & Parsons, 2009)
  • reading skills (Ledford et al, 2008)

 Progressive Time Delay

PTD is very similar to the process used in CTD. The main difference occurs in Step 2 (see above). Rather than using the same wait time before providing the correct response, the time gradually increases. For example, the first time you complete Step 2, the time delay may be 1 second. This time will gradually increase (e.g., 2 seconds, 3 seconds, etc.) in subsequent trials until the child is able to respond accurately.


Ault, M. J., Wolery, M., Gast, D. L., Doyle, P. M., & Eizenstat, V. (1988). Comparison of response prompting procedures in teaching numeral iden- tification to autistic participants. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 18, 627–636.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Kurt, O., & Parsons, C. (2009). Improving classroom learning: The effectiveness of time delay within the TEACCH approach. International Journal of Special Education, 24, 173–185.

Ledford, J. R., Gast, D. L., Luscre, D., & Ayres, K. M. (2008). Observational and incidental learning by children with autism during small group instruction. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 86–103.

Morse, T. E., & Schuster, J. W. (2000). Teaching elementary students with moderate intellectual disabilities how to shop for groceries. Exceptional Children, 66, 273–288.

Wall, M. E., & Gast, D. L. (1997). Caregivers’ use of constant time delay to teach leisure skills to ado- lescents or young adults with moderate or severe intellectual disabilities. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 32, 340–356.

Wall, M. E., Gast, D. L., & Royston, P. A. (1999). Leisure skills instruction for adolescents with se- vere and profound developmental disabilities. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 11, 193–219.

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