Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA
Verbal Behavior is all about language. It’s about communication. Within any early intervention or ABA program, a major (if not THE major) goal is to increase communication, in whatever form that takes for the learner. Verbal Behavior, then, is a huge and vital component of early intervention.
What sets Verbal Behavior apart is that it focuses on functional communication. It looks at language based on what it gets the learner. Instead of learning nouns, adverbs, and sentence structure, we look at mands, tacts, echoics, and intraverbals. These things actually serve a functional purpose for your child. So what are they?
Mand– A mand is basically a request. This is how a learner gets what they need or want.
Tact– A tact is a label. This is how a learner defines things in their environment.
Echoic– An echoic is what it sounds like – an echo. A learner can repeat back what they have heard.
Intraverbal– Intraverbals are the building blocks of social communication or conversation, and involve responding to other words.. The learner can answer questions about things that they cannot see at that moment, for example.
That sounds very technical and it can be, which is why you need a well-trained professional for Verbal Behavior training and intervention. But these technical terms (called the verbal operants) can be explained further to show the value to your child. As a parent, you want your child to be able to communicate with others- and for your child to have an effect on the listener. That means whomever they talk to will know how to respond to your child.
By learning to mand (request), your child will learn how to get help accessing what they want and need. They can request their favorite toy, activity, or food, or communicate a need such as hunger or thirst. By learning to tact (label), your child will learn how to effectively communicate about things in their environment that they can see, touch, and even mand for (request).
Echoics are crucial for teaching these verbal operants, the building blocks of language. Echoics are often used in early intervention to model simple mands, tacts, and intraverbals. Then as your child masters more of their language targets, echoics can be used to model expanded responses to teach your child even higher levels of communication, longer responses, and even early conversation skills. These early conversation skills are called intraverbals. These include crucial personal and safety information, such as being able to answer questions like your name, age, parents’ names, and phone numbers.
Learning to communicate is a primary goal for all early learners- regardless of skill level. Verbal Behavior helps us look at communication and language in a way that actually works FOR the learner. The goal here is to teach your child how to communicate, and not just how to talk. We help learners find their own voice in communicating their wants, needs, and thoughts to lead the most productive life possible.
If you have questions regarding your child’s language development, your BCBA will be your best resource. If you are looking to receive Early Intervention services contact [email protected] to see if there is a provider in your area.
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world, bSci21.org. bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series. Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar. He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues. Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at [email protected]
Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA has worked with kids with disabilities and their parents in a variety of settings for over 10 years. She has taught special education classes from kindergarden-grade 12, from self-contained to inclusion. Leanne has also managed a center providing ABA services to children in 1:1 and small group settings. She has extensive experience in school and teacher training, therapist training, parent training, and providing direct services to children and families in a center-based or in-home therapy setting. Since becoming a mom, Leanne has a new mission to share behavior analytic practices with a population she knows needs it- all moms of littles! Leanne does through her site parentingwithaba.org and through her book ‘Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom’s Sanity”. You can contact her at [email protected].
*Paid content by Verbal Beginnings.
Enjoyed the parsimony conveyed in this article. Thank you. It may be worthwhile to consider developmental framework and language development. Hence in building length of utterances, we start with 1 then 2 then 3 words–the latter presenting the basic grammar and syntax necessary toward speaking a language fluently. Incidentally, there is a sort of time limit on this fluency–seems a firm grip on operants as well as grammar and syntax and a suitable speaker’s repertoire and vocabulary must be online by age 9 or so, per most developmental theories in this area. While as ABA practitioners we may increase the target to 4-words, the truth is kids jump from 3-words to as many words as can be managed within grammar and syntax and vocabulary. So should we be modeling any truncations on speech or utterances at all? Or once at 3+ words, should we model and teach a variety of targets toward fluency? Where a 2-year old is estimated to learn 2 new words a day, our focus on single targets for ‘tact’ programs for example may run way behind the developmental trajectory. Too far behind perhaps. It behooves us to find ways to improve the learning efficiencies of our verbal behavior programming.