Manding: 4 things to know

Last week I introduced Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour. This week we’re going to focus on the first verbal operant: mands.

1. What are mands or manding?

Another word for mand is request. Mands can be single words or complex sentences. When we ask for something we’re manding for it. It is vital for a child to know how to mand for their needs. The ability to ask for the things we need is a sure way to avoid challenging behaviour.

Meme of a baby boy with a suprised look on his face with the text "So let me get this straight I don't have to cry and yell to get my cookie?" Example of how manding can reduce challenging behaviour.

Mands can take many forms: spoken words, picture exchange, voice output devices or signs and gestures. Even eye gaze can be considered a mand!

2. How should we teach manding?

There are 3 main steps to mand training:

  1. Identify highly preferred items that will be exciting enough to prompt a request.
  2. Withhold the item and prompt the mand. Model, give cues and opportunities for the child to use the mand. Don’t give them the item unless they mand for it!
  3. Reinforce and shape! Give the child access to the item IF they made an attempt or were successful in their mand.

This clip from Supernanny shows the process beautifully (keep in mind they had to edit it to fit in the length of the show. It usually takes longer than one session to get a full word)

3. How long does it take to learn to mand?

Every parent wants to know how quickly their child will learn. But, it’s impossible for anyone to predict. What we do know is that consistency is key. Children who are given lots of practice will have better outcomes. It’s also important for all people to have the same expectations of the child. Generalization (learning to do skills in all environments, with all people and all materials) does not always happen spontaneously. Once a mand is mastered it should be practiced all the time to ensure it’s maintained and generalized.

4. Why teach manding?

As mentioned before, children who can mand often have lower rates of challenging behaviour. All behaviour has a function (to escape, to get things, to get attention or for sensory purposes). If the child can communicate their need (to escape, to get things, to get attention or for sensory) they won’t have to engage in challenging behaviour. We often teach replacement behaviours to help children mand without challenging behaviour.

Communication is everyone’s right. Communication is spoken language, signs, picture exchange or voice output devices . But mands are only one of the verbal operants!

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