In this edition of ABA Behind the Scenes, Jami Hardy, MS, BCBA, LGPC, talks about replacement behaviors and their integration into the ABA process.
A mand is a request for something wanted or needed, or a request to end something undesirable. Manding is one of the first forms of communication naturally acquired, observed as early as birth—for example, when a baby cries for food or comfort from their mother. The mand directly benefits the child and is a strong foundation for other language skills, like labeling and identifying items.
There are many different types of mands used in several contexts. There are mands for items, such as toys and food. There are mands for adjectives including colors, fast versus slow, or up and down. There are mands for actions, such as tickle or jump. There are also mands to end activities the child does not want to engage in, or to leave an environment the child does NOT want to remain in— for example, requesting stop, all done, or no.
Motivation for the item or activity is needed for it to be classified as a mand, and this is shown through behavior. We cannot assume that because the child says “cookie” when they see a cookie, that they want a cookie. First we would observe the child’s behavior—are they reaching for the cookie? Are they making attempts to grab the cookie? If these other behaviors suggest the child wants the cookie, we would presume they are trying to mand. At times, motivation will need to be contrived. During these times your BCBA and behavior technician will set up your child’s environment with toys and activities that are likely to catch your child’s interest. Playing with the toys, delivering 1 or 2 at a time and making the activity fun will make it more likely your child will ask for more. For example, giving your child 1–2 puzzle pieces but keeping the other pieces in front of the child, but out of reach.
So what happens when motivation is there, but the child does not know how to ask for what they want or need? Your BCBA and behavior technician will teach how to mand, and do so in the natural environment multiple times throughout the day. Teaching the mand involves modeling what you want the child to say when requesting items and providing opportunities for the child to imitate the response before gaining access to the item or activity. For example, while building a puzzle with your child, the instructor will say, “puzzle” for the first 3 puzzle pieces while simultaneously handing over puzzle pieces. The instructor will observe the child’s behavior to make sure the child is interested in the puzzle pieces (reaching, using incorrect forms of the mand; ex. calling puzzle “game”). If your child is interested, the instructor will wait 1–2 seconds for he or she to ask for puzzle independently before giving them the piece. If your child is not interested or does not respond within 1–2 seconds, the instructor may find other activities/items that the child might be interested in and begin contriving motivation for those items instead.
Once teaching mands has been established, the instructor will provide more for independent responses and less for responses that require help. For example, if the instructor provides the vocal model “cookie” before the child requests “cookie,” a piece of cookie is given; if the child independently says “cookie” while reaching, a whole cookie is provided. Over time your child will learn to make independent request for what they want and need.
By Jami Hardy, MS, BCAB, LGPC