Teaching Mands for Attention

There are multiple ways of teaching students to obtain a response from a potential listener. One potential procedure to teach mands for attention would involve:

  • Set up situations wherein familiar adults in the classroom are prepared to deliver to the student some valuable item or activity.
  • If possible, set up conditions that will signal to the student that the individual can provide reinforcement. Wait to allow the opportunity for the student to attempt to engage in behaviors that may obtain attention.
  • Prompt the student, if necessary, to go to the person.
  • The person with the reinforcer will then vary the trials in which they are attending to the student. For roughly half of these trials, the instructor will immediately say something to the effect of, “Here, have a (some reinforcer)”. Be sure to vary the reinforcer used and to be sure that the student does not know in advance what will be delivered. For the other half of trials the person will ignore the student by engaging in conversation with someone else or otherwise appearing to be distracted. The student can then be prompted to call the person’s name or tap the person or say “excuse me” to get attention before manding for the item the person has for the student. The response topography selected will be determined by the student’s pattern of skill development. The purpose of this step is to set up conditions in which the student must make a discrimination of the conditions in which manding for attention is necessary.
  • Be sure to use a wide range of reinforcers for this program.
  • If errors occur in this process a third person (NOT the person to whom the student is requesting) must prompt the student. It will be best to identify both confederate and prompter in advance.
  • If the student spontaneously mands for attention, be sure to provide attention and a mand opportunity as quickly as possible. Remember the attention must be the reinforcer (getting the attention makes available the second stimulus: mand opportunity.)
  • Shape this skill across people in the classroom.

Mands for People Protocol

Mand Target: The actual target mand for this skill is discriminately manding for a particular people to respond with their attention serving as the reinforcer. For purposes of this protocol, the mand response will take the form of saying the person’s name with the reinforcer being the act of the person looking at or talking to the student following the mand.

Pre-requisite mand skills: Prior to initiating training a student to call to other people by name, the student should have a fairly well established ability to mand for a wide variety of items with the item present. Other people, particularly those who are targeted to be the audience for these mands will have to be established as conditioned reinforcers. It may be beneficial if the student will has learned that specific individuals can control access to reinforcers in a differentiated manner, in other words, in one circumstance a particular individual will be more likely to provide a response to a mand than will some other individual.

Pre-requisite skills from other strands: The student will likely acquire the ability to mand using another’s person’s name if they have first learned the ability to respond as a listener when the person’s name is said. Often prior to teaching the person to mand for the person by name the student is taught to “go to” the particular person when requested. It may also facilitate acquisition of this skill if the student is able to tact the various people from whom he will be taught to mand.

Motivative Operations:

Establishing Effect considerations and examples: how to motivate the student

The first step in establishing motivation will be to pair the person to be named as conditioned reinforcers. In other words, the person to be called by name will need to first regularly deliver reinforcement to the student without the requirement of saying the person’s name. The person to be named should have a history of readily delivering reinforcers following mands. Next the person to be named will have to be established as a person who can serve as a particularly effective reinforcer in certain conditions. This means that there needs to be established conditions in the environment that make that person’s attention valuable. In general, the person’s attention will become valuable as a result of some transitive motivative operation. As an example, if a particular teacher is assigned to hand out snack on a certain day, and delivery of the snack is contingent upon the student gaining the attention of the teacher, calling the teacher’s name will be valuable. Hunger as a condition of deprivation establishes snack food as a reinforcer. Since delivery of the snack has been paired with the teacher’s attention (meaning that in the past the teacher’s direction of gaze occurred just prior to the teacher giving the snack), the teachers gaze will serve as a conditioned reinforcer and the lack of teacher attention will evoke any behavior that has resulted in that attention being given. Again the relation is basically that of a transitive motivation operation. When initiating this instructional protocol it will be important to establish a variety of circumstances in which saying the names of the targeted people will be valuable. It is fairly important to make sure that the person’s name does not become a defective mand for an item rather than for attention. For example, if saying the person’s name always results in delivery of a piece of candy, saying the name of the person may exert control not because the person’s attention is important but rather because it is just another way to get candy. Saying the person’s name then will only occur when the child wants candy.

Evocative effect considerations: what topographies will need to be shaped; which topographies will need to be extinguished

Target response definition:

The target response is an intelligible vocalization of the person’s name or an accurate use of the name sign. It is important that the student be taught to say several names of people. If only one person’s name is taught there is a slight risk that the name will serve as a generalized mand for attention from many people. For example, the age and appearance of one of the authors of this manual happened to be close in many characteristics to one young student’s grandfather. The young student enjoyed interacting with the author in his role as a consultant because he often played games the student enjoyed. Attention from the author was thus valuable. However, the student manded for attention from the author by calling out “Grandpa!” The author, vainly of course, did not respond because he did not associate himself with grand fatherliness. The name used as a mand by this student, however, was clearly due to a generalization error. The student needed to learn to name people discriminatively even though they may otherwise share certain traits with other people for whom a naming response had already been learned.

Response topographies targeted for extinction:

During training it will be important that other forms of mands for attention, including tapping the person from whom attention is valued, reaching, calling out with general vocal mands (i.e. “hey, you!”) be put on extinction.

Teaching Procedures

Prompting and prompt fading:

In order to prompt a response, a third party to the interaction will be needed. The use of the person’s name as a mand for attention cannot be prompted by the person to be named since that person will first have to attend to the student thus negating the purpose of the entire procedure. Rather a third person (another instructor) will need to observe the student and prompt the student to say the appropriate name when motivation for the person’s attention is strong. In some situations with students who can read, a textual prompt can be used (such as a name tag.) The person providing the prompts will need to be sure to use the least intrusive level of prompt necessary to evoke saying the name. The prompt should be delivered form close proximity and in as subtle a fashion as possible. Prompts should not necessarily be provided immediately so that the motivation for saying the person’s name has an opportunity to build. The listener (the person whose name will be said) will need to not respond to mands for attention other than their name.

Fading to MO control: It will be difficult to use transfer trials with this procedure. To fade prompts, the instructor providing the prompts needs to fade the topography of the prompt to be used. Echoic prompts can be faded to partial echoic responses. The readability of name tags can be faded. In general to fade prompts, staff will need to provide many opportunities for students to use the names of staff (and eventually peers) in situations where the attention of the named person serves as a transitive motivative operation. Systematically fading prompts across trials will likely be necessary.

Other Procedural considerations:

Data Collection: Mastery of this skill involves the spontaneous emitting of the target response in situations where attention from the individual is valuable. Therefore daily data should be taken based on a time delay procedure. First establish motivation for the person’s attention and set an interval (perhaps two minutes) in which no prompt will be used. Record whether the student emits the target mand form in that interval. If so, mark on the data sheet that the mand of the person’s name occurred unprompted. If the student emits other mand forms, prompt the name and reinforce but record the first mand as being a prompted mand. Be sure to record mands for specific individuals as specific target items. When an individual’s name is used appropriately in the mand frame for three consecutive days that person’s name can be considered mastered. Keeping track of names and conditions in which appropriate mands occur on data sheet may be helpful. Mastered names can be listed on a skills tracking sheet.

Graphing: Graph the number of names mastered as mands for attention.

Data based decision making: Note the rate of acquisition for each targeted name. If rate of acquisition is slow consider altering procedures (for instance, adjusting motivative conditions or prompting procedures.)