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Wednesday 22 Nov 2017

What is Verbal Behavior?


Verbal Behavior (VB) is an intervention based on the science of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) which focuses solely on verbal communication. This intervention was developed based on the work of B.F. Skinner. In his book Verbal Behavior, Skinner outlined his analysis of VB, which describes a group of verbal operants, or functional units of language. Skinner explained that language could be analyzed into a set of functional units, with each type of operant serving a different function. The operants are Echoics, Mands, Tacts, and Intraverbals. These components of language are necessary for effective verbal communication and should be the focus of intervention meant to teach language. The work of Skinner has been expanded upon by researchers in the field including Jack Michael, Mark Sundberg, Jim Partington, and Vince Carbone. They have theorized that these components of language are necessary for complete understanding, generalization, and mastery of language.

  • Echoics
  • An echoic is a verbal operant which occurs in response to the verbal behavior of another person (or to a textual prompt such as a written model). It is the point-to-point (i.e. word for word) imitation of the model. The ability to imitate is necessary for the acquisition of many skills including language. Once an individual is able to imitate verbal or written models this can be used to teach a variety of other language skill. This is many times the first skill taught in a program which focuses on VB.

  • Mands
  • The mand is verbal behavior which is controlled by states of deprivation and aversion and usually specifies its own reinforcer. Mands are used to get needs and desires met and the reinforcer for the use of this verbal operant is that which is naturally reinforcing. For instance, if a child says “Mommy up” and it is functioning as a mand, that means the child wants to be picked up. A mand, which can be thought of as a “demand” in other words, is reinforced by delivery of the thing being manded. So if a child says “Mommy up” mom would pick the child up. This positive consequence (reinforcement) of the mand will make it more likely that the mand will be used again in the future. Mands can be used to request many things such as: desired items (“May I watch TV?”), information (“What’s your name?”), assistance (“Can you tie my shoe?”), missing items (given a coloring page but no crayons, the child says “I want some crayons”), actions (“Let’s go outside”); attention (“Ms. A, I have a questions”), and negative reinforcement (when told to do something undesired the student might ask “Can I take a break”) to name a few. Manding is based in the child’s motivation and many times increases language in general because the child comes to learn that their used of verbal communication results in reinforcement (i.e. something desired happens).

  • Tacts
  • A tact is verbal behavior that is under the control of the nonverbal environment and includes nouns, actions, adjectives, pronouns, relations, and others. Tacts can be thought of as a label of something in the environment or vocabulary. Tacting is functionally very different from manding and is usually taught after an individual has a repertoire of echoic and manding behavior. With a tact, the child is taught to label items but the reinforcer is not functionally related to that tact. For instance, if a child sees a dog and says “It’s a dog” they would be reinforced with some arbitrary reinforcer (the key here is that the reinforcer needs to be meaningful and powerful to the individual). We said before that mands specify their reinforcer, which is different from tacts because they do not specify the reinforcer. The child who uses “It’s a dog” as a tact is using their verbal behavior to label something in their environment, but is not using that language as a request to interact with the dog. Tacts are reinforced with generalized reinforcers, essentially anything other than the item named. Naturally, praise or confirmation are typical means of reinforcement (i.e., to the child labeling “It’s a dog!” the mother says “You’re right, that’s a dog”). This verbal behavior can also be reinforced with a primary/tangible reinforcer: “You’re right, that’s a dog. You get a skittle.”

  • Intraverbals
  • An intraverbal is verbal behavior that is under the control of other verbal behavior and is ultimately strengthened by social reinforcement. Intraverbals are considered conversational language because they are responses to the language of another person, which can be fill-ins or wh- questions. An example of a fill-in would be if you said “We’re going to the…” and the child finishes the sentence with “Park”. An example of a wh- questions would be if you said “Where are we going?” and the child says “Park”. In both of these examples the stimuli (i.e. the park) is not present which teaches children to discuss stimuli that aren’t present, which is the case most conversation. Intraverbals can be reinforced in a number of ways including social praise, arbitrary reinforcers, or naturally with a continuation of the conversational exchange. An example of continuation of the above conversation would be “You’re right we’re going to the park. What do you want to do first, swing or slide?” To teach an intraverbal, you would ask a question and prompt the response with an echoic, and reinforce after the child echoes the correct response.

    Assessing which verbal behavior skills to teach
    There are two popular assessments currently available. These are the ABLLS and VB-MAPPS. Both of these assessments are directly linked to specific skills to teach which can be utilized to develop language targets for a home or school based program.

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