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Basic Steps for Mand Training

Posted by on in Behavior Analysis
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The number of children diagnosed with some type of childhood disorder is in the millions. Along with other delays, communication is an area that has a significant impact on children with autism. Because of these deficits some children fail to acquire age appropriate speech skills, some are unable to speak at all and others can manage a few words or develop a 'jargon' of their own that cannot be understood by people around them aside from their immediate family.

Early Intensive Language Intervention

A lack of language or inability to communicate has several repercussions, a few common ones are the inability to have their needs met, trouble learning age appropriate skills, difficulty with socialization skills and even developing behavioral problems. Children with speech and language delays need to learn communication skills for several reasons. These skills allow children access to their reinforcers, help them communicate their needs, help them with 'learning to learn' and with learning socialization skills.

The significance of early, intensive language intervention cannot be emphasized enough. It is important that the strategies used should be child-specific and meet the child's needs. For example, if the child speaks single words treatment should focus on increasing the length of the sentence, or if the child vocalizes efforts should be made to teach words.

Mand training pic copy

Mand Training

It is important to teach a child how to have their needs met, which is why mand training is essential. A mand is used to make demands, ask for information, request desired items or activities, etcetera. Here are some steps to use as a guide to teach mand training:

  • Identify strong motivators: This includes identifying preferred items and activities that interest the child. It is important to identify a variety of items, including reinforcers, that the child would like to engage with because it will help teach a diverse range of mands.
  • Select the response form the child will use to mand: Vocal or verbal responses are naturally the first choice, however those options may not be possible for children with autism. A non-vocal mode of communication such as ASL (American Sign language) may be used if necessary. With the help of a Speech-language pathologist (SLP) the BCBA can help identify goals and they can work together to achieve the best possible communication mode for the child.
  • Pair a caregiver and/or staff member with the delivery of reinforcement: It is crucial for a child to have rapport with the caregiver and/or staff member. One method that can be used to achieve this is to provide access to reinforcers through the caregiver or staff member. This will help with the 'pairing' process and a relationship will be built, which will make it easier to teach the child to mand.
  • Teach when motivation is strong (MO): Another important factor to remember when teaching mands is to keep motivation strong. This can be accomplished by utilizing techniques such as using different types of reinforcers (e.g. edibles, activities etc.), delivering them randomly and not giving too much of the reinforcer at any one given time.
  • Prompt the child to use mand form: To begin mand training it is important to be sure that the child consistently approaches the preferred item and/or consistently chooses the preferred activity. It is imperative that the mand training process is not started too early nor with a delay. Beginning mand training too soon might lead to escape or avoidance behaviors or lack of motivation. In the same way, a delay might inadvertently strengthen non-specific gestures such as using the same ASL sign for all items.
  • Fade prompts so the mand is spontaneous: Prompts are an effective way of teaching new skills, however it is important to fade them so that the child will not become prompt dependent. The goal is for the child to engage in the skill independently.

In conclusion, it is important to teach mands to children with autism because it gives them greater control of their environment, improved social outcomes and increased motivation to engage in verbal behavior.


Kristen M. Albert, Vincent J. carbone, Danielle D. Murray, Margaret Hagerty, Emily J. Sweeney-Kerwin; Behav Anal Pract. 2012 Winter; 5(2):65-76: Increasing the Mand repertoire of Children with Autism through the Use of An Interrupted Chain Procedure

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