Summary of “How to Teach Verbal Behavior”

Verbal behavior is not what you think it is

* Verbal behavior is behavior mediated by other people, meaning that another person is in the middle of delivering reinforcement.

* Example: If your child says “puzzle, please” and you pick up the puzzle and give it to the child OR if your child drags you by the arm to the puzzle and points and cries until you give it to him, that also is verbal behavior. If your child asks, cries, signs, sings, uses PECS, writes, jumps up and down in order to request an object, and you give that object-that is also verbal behavior.

* Verbal behavior is operant behavior

* Four Common Verbal Operants

1. Mand-the request

2. Tact-naming, labeling, and commenting

3. Echoic-an imitation

4. Intraverbal-answering questions

* During verbal behavior, there is a speaker who emits the verbal behavior and a listener who cues and reinforces appropriate verbal behavior.

* Children on the Autism spectrum must be taught each verbal operant separately.

* Children on the Autism spectrum must be taught both speaker and listener behavior.

* Verbal behavior depends on special reinforcers, such as attention from other people.

* Children on the spectrum must learn that attention is a reinforce


What is a reinforcer?

* A consequence that increases the future probability of a behavior.  In everyday language, a reward.

* There are positive reinforcers (gaining access to things we want) and negative reinforcers (the removal of unpleasant things).

* Reinforcer deprivation (withholding a favored reinforcer for part of the day and then bringing it back out during a new lesson) can make your teaching more effective while reinforce satiation (using the same reinforcer over and over) can decrease the effectiveness.

* Identify reinforcers by completing a reinforcer checklist, observe approach and avoidance behavior, do preference assessments with objects, photographs, or words.


Human relationships and their role in teaching verbal behavior

* Relationships are important for the development of verbal behavior because attention from others reinforces tacts, echoics, and intraverbals.

* People can become conditioned reinforcers by being repeatedly paired with many positive reinforcers or even negative reinforcers (paired with the removal of something that the child does not like).

* When building relationships with children on the spectrum:

1. Pair yourself with many reinforcers

2. Pair your own behavior with different kinds of reinforcers (if child likes juice, frequently give the child juice)

3. Be responsive to all the child’s approach behaviors (if child points to toy, give him the toy.)

4. Do not pair yourself with averse stimuli (in the very early stages of developing rapport, do not  make requests, teach, interrupt, reprimand, etc).

5. Get others to manage difficult situations.

How to teach mands

* Pointing, leading, and requesting positive reinforcers are all types of approach mands.

* Pushing items away, turning away, or saying “no” are all types of rejecting mands

* To teach mands, you must identify the positive reinforcers

* Steps to teaching mands

1. Use effective reinforcers or aversive stimuli

2. Ensure that reinforcer deprivation has occurred and not satiation.

3. Observe child’s approach or rejection response.

4. Use wait time, and then prompt, if necessary, for the mand.

5. Reinforce the appropriate mand with the reinforcer your child requests.

* Teach new mands using physical and echoic prompts and fade these prompts as soon as possible.

* Teach mands in the natural environment by observing child’s approach and avoidance responses (for example, if student is coloring and wants a new color, you can ask her to name the color she wants).

* Contrive opportunities to mand using incidental teaching:  put a desired object within sight but out of reach and request the mand from the student in order to get desired item.


Watching other people

* Generalized imitation refers to imitating novel models without reinforcement, for example, when someone sings a new song and your child imitates the new song without specific teaching to do so.

* Generalized imitation is important for language development because without imitating new things that people do and say, a child is unlikely to learn much language.

* In order to teach generalized imitation, use discrete trial training steps:

1. Child sits with hands in laps facing the trainer

2. Trainer places an object in front of child.

3. Trainer says child’s name, pauses, and says, “Do this”

4. Trainer presents the model

5. Wait 5 seconds for correct response, if no response is given or incorrect response is given, physically prompt the correct response

6. Immediately praise prompts and unprompted correct responses.

7. Record child’s response after every trial.


Say Something: teaching vocalization

* Teaching vocalization is important because it is the most conventional form of communication understood by most people.  It may decrease behavior problems.

* Lovaas’s four steps for teaching vocalization:

1. Reinforce any vocalization or looking at the adult with food.  This should result in more vocalization and more looking at the adule.

2. Only reinforce vocalization if the vocalization follows the adult’s vocalization within a few seconds.

3. Only reinforce vocalization that occurs after the adult vocalizes and the child’s vocalization approximates what the child says.

4. Once a few simple words are taught, new words are taught using echoic prompts and fading.

* Important not to teach verbal behavior until the child is able to sit and look when his/her name is called.

* Differentially reinforce vocalization by reinforcing vocalizations and withholding reinforcement for not speaking.

* There are several alternatives to vocalization, including signing, using visual systems, and using AAC.

What’s that?

* Receptive language reflects what we observe people do, not what is in their head.

* Discrimination can be used to determine receptive language.  Example:  show the child a picture of a circle and a square.  If the child reliably points of a circle with teacher says “circle” and points to square when teacher says “square”, the child probably understands the concept.

* Using conditional discrimination training helps improve receptive language.

* Example: The therapist presents pictures of cat, dog, or cow.  The therapist says “cat” and only reinforces pointing to the picture of the cat.  If the child points to the dog or cow, the therapist does not reinforce that response.


* Intraverbal is the verbal operant that does not have 1:1 correspondence with its verbal antecedent; for example, filling in the gaps in incomplete sentences and answering some WH questions.

* You begin teaching intraverbals by using mand training (discussed above) and fading prompts.

–Rachel Lacap


Chapters 71 and 73

Chapter 71

In this chapter, Christopher explains his life plans and how’s he’ll achieve them. He has to take his exams, and do well enough to be able to go to university.


“Then, when I’ve got a degree in Maths, or Physics, or Maths and Physics, I will be able to get a job and earn lots of money and I will be able to pay someone who can look after me and cook my meals and wash my clothes, or I will get a lady to marry me and be my wife and she can look after me so I can have company and not be on my own.”


This quote can be interpreted to mean he wants a relationship – he says he wants a wife. But when he describes why he wants a wife, it gives us a greater insight into his mind. He wants someone to care for him: cook, clean, etc.  AND he wants the company, so he is not on his own.


As an SLP, I often struggle to engage my students with Autism.  Language is a social construct, and frequently my students with Autism do not socially engage with language.  Because of that, I may fall into thinking that they do not desire social interaction. The insight revealed in this quote – and really, throughout the book – is that people with Autism DO desire social interaction, but in a way that is different than neurotypicals do.


I have a 5th grade student with Autism, he’s been on my caseload since he was in Pre-K. He is FREQUENTLY difficult to engage using language – even with his dynamic device.  However, every time I see him, he initiates a hug.  And when we walk down the hall together, he may not answer questions, comment, or even look in my direction during our stroll, but he will invariably reach out to hold my hand.


Chapter 73


The topic of this chapter centers on how Christopher’s behavioral difficulties when he was younger and how they  impacted his parent’s relationship.  This is a tough chapter.  Parenting and marriage is difficult, and I imagine it would be even tougher when you are learning how to parent a child with a disability. Have any of you heard the statistic thrown around regarding the divorce rate for couples that have a child with a disability?  I heard somewhere that the rate was significantly higher. It’s irresponsible of me, but I don’t know WHERE I heard that statistic, and yet, I still shared it numerous times. I assumed that this statistic was a fact, because having a child with a disability DOES cause more stress in general and I assumed it would affect a couple’s marriage negatively. You know what happens when you asssume?  I thought I’d be more responsible during the writing of this blog post, and I looked up the statistic.  I assumed wrong. For married couples with a child with a developmental disability ( which included CP, Down Syndrome, Intellectual Disability and Unknowd), there is not a statistically significant difference in the divorce rate.

As a clinician, this chapter reminds me to support my students and their families with an empathetic ear.

–Chelsea Graham



Blog post chap 59, 61, and 67

Chap. 59 Summary: Christopher is detailing how confusing it is when people tell him what to do-for example, “Keep off the grass,” but then not telling which area of the grass exactly. He feels relieved with the way Siobhan understands him and gives very exact directions on what it is he is allowed to do. She gives him a strategy, for example, that if someone hits him, he is to move away and stand still and count from 1 to 50, then come and tell her what has happened. Next Christopher has more detective work sneaking into the backyard of his neighbor and looking in the windows of her garden shed. Mrs. Shear’s then had to threaten Christopher that she would call the police again for him to go home. Christopher returned home and didn’t tell his dad what he had been up to.

Application: Very explicit directions are comforting to our students that don’t understand abstract language or indirect messages J

Chap. 61 Summary: Christopher is imagining that because his mother was cremated, he sometimes looks up into the sky and thinks that there are molecules of his mother in clouds over Africa, or coming down as rain in Brazil, or in snow somewhere. He doesn’t understand this concept of heaven that people have tried to explain to him, but he does thoroughly understand the process of decomposition and what happens to people who are buried.

Application: Further confirmation of how easy it is to imagine the concrete and real for Christopher.   Also, in this chapter, you can see how overfocused Christopher is on what people wear and how they smell J

Chap. 67 Summary: It’s Saturday, and Christopher’s dad is watching England play Romania at football on the TV, so he decides to do more detective work to find out who killed Wellington the dog. He talks about how this is brave for him, because he doesn’t like talking to strangers. It takes him a long time to get used to new staff members at school, and he won’t talk to them for weeks and weeks until he knows they are safe. Once he learns about if they have pets, or what there favorite color is, and draws a plan of their house, and asks them what kind of car they drive, he doesn’t mind being in the same room with them.

As Christopher goes on his neighborhood investigation, he has a couple conversations, and one longer conversation with a nice older lady who wants to bring out a snack to him. She offers many different snacks to him, but he ends up rejecting several of the offered food items because of their color. When Mrs. Alexander goes into the house to get snacks, Christopher ends up leaving because he was worried she might be calling the police. As he was walking away, he had a Chain of Reasoning inside his head, which left him with the notion that Mr. Shears may be his prime suspect in the murder of Wellington.

Application: To see how difficult it was for Christopher to eat things that were a certain color was enlightening. I never had thought that the strange eating habits I see with students that have autism, could be related to color! I always just thought it was the texture and taste they didn’t like and had never even thought it may be the color, or the fact that it was touching another food item

— Holly Porter

Tech Tuesday

Shaneh Raymer shares:

I had the opportunity to use one of the ipads that was given to our department by the Crusade for Children. Since we don’t yet have money to purchase apps, I have been searching for free apps that would be useful. So far the one I have used the most is YouTubekids. It has so many books and songs that I have used with my preschool caseload. It helps me choose books that coordinate with our Big Day preschool curriculum without having to buy them!   Some of the books are animated and it helps to engage the students. Using the Ipad rather than my desktop allows me to have the “book” close to the students so they can identify pictures and answer questions about them.

Also I have been using Sound Touch Lite ( animals).  It has drawings of animals and when you touch the animal a picture of a real animal appears along with the the animal sound. This app is great for preschoolers or anyone who is working on basic language skills. It would be a great cause/ effect activity for students working on basic skills. The students love the colorful drawings and real photographs. I have used it not only for building vocabulary but also working turn taking skills as they pass the Ipad back and forth.

Student Led Conferences

Today, we take a break from our independent book studies to hear about Rachel’s experience so far with the “digital backpack”

We are doing student led conferences this year as part of our digital backpacks.  My principal asked if I would pick a grade and complete student led conferences with a few of the kids on my caseload from that grade.  At first, I thought this would be “just another thing” to do, however, after a quick google search, I found these forms on teachers pay teachers.  Looking at the form (and now having completed it with a couple of my kids), it is not difficult at all.  It really helps them realize their “speech goals” and “own them”.  For the couple of kids that I have been working with, I even showed them their last few percentages and asked them where they wanted to be by our next conference day in February.  They loved knowing exactly where they were performing and what they needed to do to get to meet their goal. Here is the ink for the form I used.

A few years ago, before we had graphs on the computer, I had my students graph their own data in their folders, and this also helped hold them accountable.  I may keep this student led conference form and every month have them update their percentage to see how far they have

–Rachel Lacap, Wheeler Elem.

Chapters 37-43

Why doesn’t Christopher tell lies? He can’t tell lies. He does not know how. Because a lie is something that does not happen, there are just too many possibilities from which to choose. He could not pick only one thing that did not happen in order to tell a good lie. All of the possibilities make him too shaky and scared. So he has vowed that everything he has written is true.
His father is very worried about Christopher’s ability to navigate the world. He understands that Christopher can get into trouble because most people will not take the time to understand him. Father asks Christopher to stay out of trouble, including investigating what happened to the dog.

Christopher’s mother died two years before. She was in the hospital due to a heart problem. Christopher is naturally very upset and wants to see her. He asks many questions and wants to bring her food and make her a card. His father states that he will take these things to his mother and seems reluctant to let Christopher see his mom in the hospital.

Perspective is the word that I keep coming back to in these chapters. First we get Christopher’s perspective on telling lies. He states that his mom said he could not tell lies because he was a good person, but he explains that this is not the case at all. His perspective is much different, and without his explanation it would be impossible to deduce the real reason he does not lie. How many times do we see this with our kids? The child that is screaming and hitting themselves, and we only have our perspective of their behaviors to try to reason out what is upsetting. We use all of our logic to attempt to adapt the situation to make the child comfortable, when the truth is the problem may only be logical to the child from their own perspective. We only get his father’s perspective through Christopher’s eyes. But, as parents and educators we understand the father’s perspective of trying to help Christopher navigate the world with the limited parameters that he has set for himself.   We continue to work with our kids and try to understand their perspective, but also understand that we are often limited to our own reason and perspective.


-Michelle Hughes

Chapters 47 & 53

Chapter 47 begins by describing Christopher’s way of determining whether it will be a “good day” or a “black day.” He counts the red and yellow cars that he sees on his way to school and the combination that he sees determines what kind of day it will be. When Christopher described his “black day” as a day when he doesn’t speak to anyone, doesn’t eat lunch or take risks it reminded me of one of my students as well as provided some insight. How many times do we take one look at one of our kids and know that it is going to be an “off day?” I wonder if the color of the cars, or the number of birds or whatever- is what determined what kind of day it would be long before they walk in to school. Christopher discusses how he enjoys having things in a nice order because it makes him feel safe. Christopher talks about how he would like to be an astronaut and how Terry told him that he would never be able to have a job like that. Christopher talks about his plans to go to University and study physics and mathematics. The end of the chapter explains how the book was written. It seems that he was given a writing assignment and he decided to write about finding Wellington and going to the police station.

Chapter 53 starts by stating that Christopher’s mother had died of a heart attack. Christopher made a get well card in his art class for his mother while she was in the hospital. He made the outside full of red cars which is Christopher’s indicator of a “super super good day.”  It was interesting that Christopher made a get well card for his mother with a picture of something that was only valid to him, as I’m assuming that red cars meant nothing to his mother. I had a student do something very similar when her teacher had a baby and she made a card for her. The student’s current “passion” was Michael Jackson- so the front of the card had a picture of Michael Jackson on it- which obviously has nothing to do with having a baby. In both situations, my student and Christopher had the very best of intentions because what they drew was something that made them happy. However, they were lacking the skill of empathy and the ability to determine what would make the recipient of the card happy. The chapter ends with Mrs. Shears cooking Christopher and his father dinner and Christopher beating her in Scrabble.

  • Sarah Crady