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Early Communication: Why won't my ABA Therapist stop talking about a "Mand" !

Early Communication: Why won't my ABA Therapist stop talking about a "Mand" !

Verbal Operants: Mand

Children with special needs often struggle with communicating their wants and needs appropriately. Many times they express their wants and needs through crying, whining, or even through aggression. The term "mand" is often used by ABA therapists to describe how we teach children to communicate their wants and needs appropriately. At Madison Behavior Therapy we teach the verbal operants based on B. F. Skinner's Analysis of Verbal Behavior, which includes mands, intraverbals, tacts, receptive language, imitation and echoics. This article will focus on the verbal operant, "mand" and how it applies to our everyday lives and the importance of teaching this skill to your child. We teach manding through vocals, sign language, PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), or with an iPad program such as Autismate or Proloquo2go.

 An important consideration that must be made when teaching mands, is the child's motivation. The function of a mand is to request something- or to get what you want- such as: desired items, information, assistance, missing items, actions, or even getting rid of something aversive.

At Madison Behavior Therapy we intensively teach specific mands vs. generalized mands to our clients. Here are some reasons why we teach specific mands such as "juice," "ball," "swing," "cookie" vs. "more," "please," "play," "eat," or "drink.":

  • Developmentally, children typically acquire mands for specific items/actions before generalized mands. We know from existing developmental checklists and assessments that children learn specific mands for their favorite things prior to learning generalized mands like "more", "help," and "please." (Sundberg, 2008).
  • Training specific mands can support the development of other verbal operants. Research has shown that training specific mands can increase the acquisition rate of other skills, such as tacts (Arntzen & Almas, 2002), and echoics (Drash & High, 1999).
  • If generalized mands are taught first, extinction will have to be employed to teach more specific mands later. A common, well-documented side-effect of extinction is an extinction burst, which can involve a temporary increase in the frequency, intensity, and duration of problematic behavior (Lerman & Iwata, 1995).
  • Teaching specific mands is more effective in reducing behavior than teaching generalized mands. Peer-reviewed literature has shown that mand training specific to the motivating operation is more effective at reducing problem behavior (Kahng, Hendrickson, & Vu, 2000).

When teaching general mands such as "more" you may continue to see problem behaviors because you do not always know what the child wants more of. We always want to teach specific mands for this reason.

"I want to go outside," "I want a cookie," or "juice" are some ways that children mand in their everyday life.  A mand provides access to its own reinforcer. We teach manding by creating a state of deprivation for a child's preferred item or edible. We limit access to preferred items and edibles so that the motivation is very high to mand for the item or edible during our contrived manding sessions. Basically, by not having a cookie for an extended period of time, the motivation to have the cookie becomes much higher; therefore, the learner is more likely to mand. However, if the child has free access to the preferred item or edible, the motivation to mand will be very low because what's the point of asking for something when I get it for free? Creating motivation for an item or edible is very important to the success of manding. Remember, appropriate communication skills are the foundations to a successful future!


Written by Kaylon Carpenter, BCaBA, Clinical Supervisor

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