Steps in Teaching a Specific Mand

Although a systematic approach to teaching the first mands is required, the mand is tied to motivation and therefore, the process requires a balance between procedural accuracy and having fun. Mand instructors balance effective control of variables such as prompts and timing of reinforcer delivery with a careful monitoring of the student’s enjoyment of the process. Of course we can assess the student’s enjoyment of the process through observable behavior such as how much they are smiling, approaching adults, and the frequency of reaching towards others. For the most part, mand training should be a gleeful process.

The Steps to Teaching a Specific Mand

  • Verify motivation is in place (capture or contrive).
  • Model/pair mand form and reinforcer delivery.
  • Prompt the mand as the child shows motivation. This requires that the instructor selects the appropriate prompt level for the student.
  • If the response occurs, the instructor can either immediately deliver the reinforcer or represent the item in order to immediately fade prompts.
  • On future trials with the same item continue to systematically fade prompts.
  • Once all prompts are faded, continue to provide dense practice for the child in using the mand across a variety of settings and in discrimination with other mands.

Before the instructor presents the first mand trial, verification of motivation is necessary. Watch to see if the child responds through approaching the item. If the child turns away or otherwise avoids contact, it suggests that adequate motivation is not in effect. Keep in mind that the child can turn away for a variety of reasons and not always because they lack motivation for the item. For example, the teacher may be a warning signal that some instructional demands are about to occur. For this reason, mand trainers need to avoid inserting other demands during the early phases of the mand training process. As we stated earlier, the instructor at this point will have needed to provide the student with experiences, for instance, lots of “free” delivery of reinforcers, which condition the instructor as a set of improving conditions. If the instructor identifies that motivation is not present then the next step would be to contrive motivation or to select another reinforcer. Once motivation is verified and the student presents a strong approach to the reinforcer, we are ready to begin the process of shaping or firming the specific mand response form.