Being able to express one’s wants, and needs is a fundamental component of communication. According to Cooper, Heron and Howard (2007), an operant evoked by motivation and followed by a specific reinforcement is known as a mand. In essence, this means that motivation to speak occurs through making requests and demands of others and their response acts as a reinforcement.
However, many individuals with autism spectrum disorder often have inappropriate requesting skills, due to a lack of communication and/or social skills. Instead of using words, their expressions are manifested in ways such as screaming, crying, and even pinching. Therefore, by capturing and contriving opportunities for your child to make requests in a natural environment, they would learn that that using words is beneficial. This is especially so when reinforcement occurs in a specific and timely manner.
1. Manding for Attention
Being able to gain attention is a vital, lifelong skill that should be manifested from a young age. This is also the first skill that should be worked on with a child as it is a pre-requisite for the following mands discussed below. Before teaching a child how to mand with labels, mand for assistance, for missing items, or information, they must first learn to obtain the attention of the individual.
Prompt the child's hands to tap your arm while saying how they should address you (e.g. "Mummy"). Reinforce them immediately by playing with them or delivering an item they like. It is important to eventually fade the verbal prompt to increase their motivation to address you verbally. For example, say the beginning sound of the word (e.g. /M/).
2. Manding with Labels
Learning to label the items he/she wants allows the child to better communicate their needs and wants. By contriving situations in the environment where motivation is high, the child learns that using their words to tact for things they want is a rewarding act, which in turn, increases their motivation to verbalize.
Show the child a desirable item while saying its label (e.g. "car"). Similar to manding for attention, the label prompt should be faded away gradually. For example, say the beginning sound of the word (e.g. "/c/“) when showing the car to the child before delivering it.
3. Manding for Assistance
There are various means to cultivate valuable teaching opportunities when it comes to manding for assistance. The key idea behind this is to understand what activities are reinforcing to the child, and thus capturing and manipulating these instances for them to learn how to seek help.
If a child enjoys a specific snack, but is unable to open the package, prompt them by saying "Help me!" before helping to open and giving them the snack. This reinforces them to seek help using words.
4. Manding for Missing Items
There are two main components to consider when teaching this specific skill. Firstly, the child needs to be able to notice that the item is missing. Secondly, the activity that the child is engaged in should be one that he or she is familiar with. By choosing an activity that is both familiar and reinforcing, the child would have greater motivation to speak up to find the item. Subsequently, after the child has mastered the skill, it would be beneficial to contrive similar situations during different activities.
If the child is familiar with and enjoys the activity of colouring, present the paper or colouring book but hide the crayons. When he or she realizes that the crayons are missing, prompt them to say, “Crayon is missing!”, before providing crayons.
5. Manding for Missing Information
For higher level learners who are able to answer intraverbals (i.e. “Can you name me 3 foods?”), teaching them how to mand for missing information helps to increase speech as well. The key idea is to devise ways to peak a child’s curiosity, and in turn, motivation to use their words to get the information they are looking for.
One simple way to do so would be to hide small items (e.g. small snacks the child likes) in an opaque bag and shake it. When he or she is interested and attends to the bag, prompt them to say, "What is in there?". Next, take out the item and say the item's name before delivering it.
In conclusion, by teaching a child how to request (a.k.a. mand), he or she learns that using their words to ask for things is a valuable act. Essentially, they learn that when they talk, their life gets better almost instantly, further driving their motivation to speak. However, it is important to contrive situations for teaching in a natural setting with no anxiety, and to also understand what your child enjoys and finds fun. Otherwise, it may backfire and reduce motivation for speech. With practice and continuous exposure across various situations, learning how to mand would undoubtedly help children become confident speakers!
Written by Junice