Teaching Young Students with Autism How to Make Requests
Young children with an autism spectrum disorder may have limited ability to request for their wants and needs. Many times, children will start to demonstrate problem behavior because they can’t communicate.
I understand…how frustrating would it be if you know what you want but can’t tell anyone?! So, what do we do about it? This is an example of how ABA therapy can help with teaching important skills.
For some early learners with minimal language skills or abilities, it may be beneficial to start an intensive “Mand Training” Program. In simple terms, a “Mand” is when a child makes a request for something. In behavioral terminology, a mand is a verbal response that is controlled by an establishing operation. The mand is verbal behavior, which is controlled by states of deprivation and aversion. It usually specifies its own reinforcer. We use “Mands” to get needs and desires met. The reinforcer for the use of this verbal operant is that which is naturally reinforcing.
Examples of Mands
Mands can be used to request many things; desired items (“skittles”), information (“What’s your name?”), assistance (“Can you help me?”), missing items (given a direction to cut out a shape but not given scissors, the child says “I want some scissors”), actions (“tickle me”); and negative reinforcement (when told to do something that’s not preferred the student might ask “Can I take a break”).
Examples of Strategies for Teaching Mands
When intensive mand training is started, it is important to be systematic to set up an environment conducive for language training. For example, if a child has access to toys and food items without having to ask, it is unlikely that they will use language to make requests. One strategy would be to put a shelf up high and place preferred toys/items on the shelf so that the child has to request for items. Another strategy for young children may be to put things in clear plastic containers where the child can see the item but can’t gain access without asking. When setting up a language training environment, it is crucial to utilize what the child is most interested in as a reward.
It is important to note that mand training should be done across all environments (home, school, community, etc.). Mand training should also be done with all caregivers (Mom, Dad, teachers, grandparents, etc.). Expectations should be consistent for the child. For example, many children will learn where they can get something for ‘free’ and where they have to ask for it.
For some children, it may be necessary to consider an augmentative form of communication. Of course, vocal communication is the goal. However, sign language or Picture Exchange Communication System may assist in the development of communication for many children. There are pros and cons with both sign language and a Picture Exchange Communication System. It is recommended that parents discuss both options with a behavioral consultant with training in communication training and a speech therapist.
The benefits of Mand Training for young children and their families can be life-changing. Once a student learns “I talk, I get,” it is likely their ability to communicate will increase. Communication will start to serve a function for the child.
1. Mands have been said to be the first type of verbal behavior acquired by children.
2. Mands help the student control their environment.
3. Mand training makes social interaction more valuable.
4. The focus on motivation in manding and developing new reinforcers may serve to reduce the value of repetitive/stereotyped actions.
5. Mand training may assist in developing the value of communication and thus spur the acquisition of the other verbal operants.
6. Mand training makes social interaction more valuable.
7. It is relatively easy to do because you are using the child’s own motivation as a tool.
If you live in the Dayton, Ohio area, Trumpet Behavioral Health is offering a free workshop for parents, teachers and caregivers of students with autism.
About Lisa Flake, BCBA, JD
Lisa Flake-Houseworth is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She serves as the senior consultant at Trumpet Behavioral Health autism center in Dayton, Ohio. She supervises both home and center-based clients, ranging in age from 2-years-old through 18-years-old. She also takes the lead role in implementing after-school programs including social skills classes and life skills classes for older students.
Following are references used in the creation of this material:
Barbera, M.L. & Rasmussen, T. (2007). The verbal behavior approach: How to teach children with autism and related disorders. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Miller, Keith. (2006) Principles of Everyday Behavior Analysis (4th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Sundberg, M.L. & Partington, J.W. (1998). Teaching Language to Children with Autism or Other Developmental Disabilities (ver. 7.1). Pleasant Hill, CA: Behavior Analysts, Inc.
Sundberg, M.L. & Partington, J.W. (1998). The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (The ABLLS): The ABLLS Guide (ver. 1.0). Pleasant Hill, CA: Behavior Analysts, Inc.