Teaching Skills Needed for Effective Mand Training

One can accomplish training mand skills in some children through employing some rather simple procedures. Of course most of us have learned to ask for what we want through informal interactions with our parents and others at a very early age. No one set out to teach us to mand. Most infants acquire mands with no formal training. However, for children who present deficits in mand acquisition, special teaching which employs a careful analysis of several variables may be required. Teaching students with autism to use mands effectively may require a fairly complex set of instructional behaviors.

Teachers who are involved in the instruction of mand skills will perform best if they have acquired an in-depth knowledge of basic verbal behavior and advanced verbal behavior. Teachers will need to know how to differentiate mands from other forms of verbal behavior. It is also important to be able to identify sources of control (antecedents and consequences) related to specific verbal behavior. This means being able to determine events that occur just prior to the child speaking (e.g. was there some stimulus present that evoked the behavior or did the behavior follow from conditions of deprivation?) This means the teacher should be able to tell if a behavior is under the control of a discriminative stimulus or under the control of a motivative operation or, as is most often the case, under conditions of multiple control (both SDs and MO present.)

Those who are involved in the mand training process, then, need to have a wide background in the basic tool set of behavior analysis. The behavioral principles needed by teachers to effectively teach mands to children with autism include:

Behavior Analysis Skills Needed by Teachers to Effectively Teach Mands

  • Stimulus control procedures (SD and MOs)
  • Prompting and prompt fading
  • Shaping
  • Differential reinforcement
  • Data management and data based decision making
  • Functional analysis of non-verbal and verbal behavior
  • Instructional control
  • Instructional design
  • Contriving and capturing motivation
  • Transfer of technology: ability to train others through guided practice, etc

When teaching some children, an in-depth knowledge of the behavioral principles may not be necessary. However, in order to problem solve and detect reasons for absent or defective mand patterns, someone involved with the child’s program will need to have such skills in their repertoire.

The teaching of mands is a dynamic process. Teachers need to be alert to subtle changes in student behavior. They need to be able to discriminate the behaviors that indicate that an item or activity has value or has lost its value. Manipulating the environment to promote such motivation is an essential skill. Mand training requires that students have fun with this process. The act of making instruction fun for the student may involve significant effort on the part of the instructor. Teaching mands will involve teacher stamina. One cannot teach mands through a passive approach, an enthusiastic approach is often required, especially when working with students who may not have many known reinforcers. Sometimes, mand training can be a physically exhausting process.