Establishing a Broad Mand Repertoire

As we stated earlier, even at the earliest phases of mand training it is important to actively teach the student to mand for more than one or two items. A child who has learned to ask for only a single item or activity may be prone to using the response to request many other things. In other words a single response serves to control many reinforcers.

The skilled speaker of any language is able to emit a wide variety of requests. Therefore it is important to establish a wide variety of mand skills for those who may present deficient mand skills.

In our experience, we have observed a tendency in some teachers to reduce the intensity and focus of mand training once a student has acquired five to ten mands. Often at this point the student is more cooperative during instructional interactions because the value of social interaction has been established. Teachers may then increase the amount of instruction related to other verbal and non-verbal repertoires and reduce the overall emphasis on assisting the student in broadening their mand repertoire. Likewise after ten or so mands, for many students with autism it becomes a challenge to assess or condition new reinforcers to be used in the mand frame.

If we consider the variety of mands that competent speakers use during daily interactions, it is likely that most speakers use thousands of different mands and are able to recombine existing response forms to make requests in novel situations. In the field of behavior analysis there are several theories such as naming theory (Horne& Lowe, 1996) , stimulus equivalence theory (Sidman, 1997), and relational frame theory (Hayes, et al 2003) that suggest with multiple exemplar training, individuals will readily learn to transfer operant control across functions without explicit training. In other words, a student who has learned many tacts, many mands, and many listener responses and then is presented with a new response taught only under a single form of control (for instance as a tact), will learn to use that response for other operant functions. The point is that with broad repertoires comes transfer of stimulus control. Teaching a large number of mands will allow the student to acquire new mands with little or no training. The mand response forms may also then readily transfer to tacts and listener responses.

In order to accomplish teaching a wide variety of mands, instructors need to make sure instruction is organized to keep several mands active at a time. Such organizational efforts will include graphing the rate of mand acquisition. The graphs will need to be reviewed often. A system of tracking “mastered” mands needs to be in place in order to maintain acquired skills. Continue to schedule mand training as part of allotted instructional time. Post written cues in the classroom so that staff is reminded to present mand opportunities throughout the course of naturally occurring activities and as described earlier, Continue to assess and condition new reinforcers.

Transitive motivative operations can be used to teach new mands that are related to reinforcers that are currently under control of acquired mands. Recall that transitive motivative operations involve altering the value of a stimulus through the presentation of some other stimulus. Instructors can manipulate the environment to make some new condition valuable because of its association with established reinforcers. A child who can request a cookie, may be motivated to learn to request “open” if the cookie is offered in some container that cannot be accessed without someone helping to open it.