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


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