Teaching Requesting – Early Mand Training

  • Situation

    I have a new student who has extremely limited communication skills and many challenging behaviors. He can imitate some sounds and words but does not use them functionally. He will hit, scream, or scratch to get something he wants or to get out of something that he doesn’t want to do. Also, when he wants something he will just go and get it on his own. His parents report the same behaviors at home and that they often give him whatever he wants just to stop the screaming.

  • Summary

    Early mand training starts with identifying strong reinforcers such as foods/drinks, favorite toys or even something that might be a special interest item such as a rubber band.

    Once you know of a few reinforcers, create many opportunities for them to use a word/approximation to get that specific item or activity, rather than a scream, hit or scratch.

    For some students, you may need to teach requesting with a different response form such as sign language or picture-based systems.

    Here are a few strategies for teaching students with special needs with communication limitations how to make verbal requests using prompts and positive reinforcements:

    • Complete a reinforcer checklist to identify items (food, toys and activities) that positively motivate your student to work to request the reinforcer.
    • Perform a motivation assessment survey to identify preferred foods, toys, activities, etc. that will serve as reinforcers for verbal and signed requests.
    • Set up opportunities throughout the day for your student to see the reinforce item but be unable to obtain it without making a verbal request or by using sign language.
  • Definition

    Early mand  training is a form of behavioral training that uses prompting and reinforcement of requests to get preferred items or activities. A “mand” is a functional unit of language as defined by B.F. Skinner and is controlled by student motivation to use words (or sign/pictures) to access the item, activity or information. This is the first step in teaching language as it is based upon student motivation and results in a student being reinforced specifically with what he/she has requested. It should be noted that for children who cannot imitate speech sounds or words, a different response form such as sign language may be required.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 3-5, 6-10
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Pre-requisites

    knowledge of reinforcers knowledge of verbal behavior – mand training

  • Process

    1. Identify items that your student is motivated to obtain. A “reinforcer survey” or “preference assessment” can be completed by school staff and family to get more ideas of what your student loves.

    2. Take advantage of or set up opportunities throughout the day where the student sees the item but has to use spoken language to get access to it. (This should occur multiple times throughout the day!)

    3. When the student shows interest (looks, reaches), prompt him to verbally name the item (mand) by saying the item label and wait 1-3 seconds for the student to echo you. If the student names the item or gives a good approximation, give it to him.

    4. If the student does not request (mand), prompt again.

    5. Fade prompts as soon as possible. For example, after the child can respond with a full prompt, use a partial prompt of saying only the first sound of the word, then fade to only a time delay prompt. (i.e. During initial training, a teacher may prompt the word “ball” and eventually fade that prompt to just saying “b” to then just using time delay, waiting 3 seconds to see if the child will say item name himself.)Do not teach generalized requests such as “more” as his verbal language should result in him getting exactly what he requested.

    6. For some children, you may need to teach requesting with a different response form such as sign language or picture based systems

  • Documents and Related Resources




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