Verbal Behavior Training
Why Verbal Behavior Training Is Important
What Is Verbal Behavior Training
In his book Verbal Behavior, B.F Skinner classified language into categories/skills or what Skinner called “operants”. Each operant having its own function. Verbal Behavior Training typically focuses on teaching the learner the following verbal operants (verbal skills); manding (requesting), echoics (exact imitations) tacting (commenting) and intraverbals (conversational skills).
Manding: Manding (requesting) is the first skill taught in Verbal Behavior programs. The function of a mand/request is to obtain what is desired. Our goal is to have learners manding hundreds of times per day as typical learners do. Therapists contrive situations to capture the learner’s Motivating Operation (motivation) in order to increase manding and the variety of mands. Once a mand is mastered it is transferred across the other verbal operants (echoics, tacting and intraverbals) by teaching the learner to make comments, verbally imitate more varied versions of the mand across settings and use the word conversationally. In the beginning stages of mand training, the child is only required to make requests by any means they have the ability to perform such as pointing at the item. The therapist then builds on this understanding to shape the actual word the client is trying to use. The consequence of receiving what the child mands/requests for increases the chances that the behavior will occur in the future (reinforcement); this also decreases the likelihood that the child will use problem behavior to obtain what they want, such as crying for a cookie rather than requesting it. Motivation may be the most important variable in teaching language, although it is typically not discussed outside of verbal behavior.
In manding training Most to Least Prompting is utilized to ensure the learner practices the correct response. Shaping (reinforcing successive approximations to a target behavior) is used to teach words that are not yet in the learners verbal repertoire. Prompts are faded as quickly as possible to prevent learners from becoming prompt dependent. Prompt dependency is evidenced when a learner waits for a verbal command before proceeding with tasks and skills rather than independently initiating tasks and skills that they know how to perform.
Echoics: The echoic operant refers to vocal imitation. A strong echoic ability is critical in teaching new language; in order to learn a child must be able to imitate. This is particularly true in teaching language. To learn to sign a child needs to have the ability to imitate motor movements and to learn to speak a child needs the ability to vocally imitate. An echoic imitation has occurred if the child exactly echoes the speech of the speaker. By first teaching echoic skills to learners we can begin to reinforce language that may have otherwise not have been reinforcing to the child. Once a child imitates/echoes words they are provided with strong praise and reinforcement in an effort to pair words with reinforcement so the child will begin to enjoy using words. We teach a child to develop a strong echoic repertoire by repeatedly saying certain words and we reinforce it many times once the child echoes the word, which increases the probability of the child using those words in the future.
Tacting: A tact is a comment used to share an experience or draw another’s attention. For example a child may say “birdies!” to point out flying birds. This verbal operant is not controlled by the child wanting something, rather the child is making a comment on some thing in their environment. Tacting is taught in verbal behavior training once a child can mand and use echoics. This type of verbal operant is usually reinforced with verbal praise or confirmation. Tangible reinforcers such as toys and food can be used to reinforce this verbal operant if the child is not reinforced/does not enjoy verbal praise.
Intraverbal: Intraverbal skills are conversational skills which allow people to discuss something that is unseen in their environment. Answering a question and filling in another person’s statement are both examples of intraverbals. Filling in another’s statement is termed intraverbal fill in. With younger clients, intraverbal fill ins may be a nursery song such as “twinkle twinkle little______”, or statements such as “ready, set,________” as well as answering Wh (who, what, where, when…) questions.