Why are INTRAVERBALS the key to unlock your child's conversational skills?


Find out what it takes for your child to hold a conversation

Intraverbal is a form of verbal behaviour where the child responds to another person’s verbal behaviour, akin to two people having a conversation. It is considered the most complex behaviour to teach; however, it definitely is attainable. An example of an intraverbals can be “What are some things that you eat?” and the child replies “rice, carrots, fish” without any reference to visual cues such as picture cards or the actual food item in front of them. Hence, intraverbals are something that involves memory. A child that has successfully mastered this level should gradually be able to progress to holding a conversation.


In the presence of a visual cue to help the child answer the question (e.g. picture cards of food items in front of them), this verbal behaviour would be known instead as “tacting”, which is similar to labelling or knowing the names of items. A good example could be presenting a chair to the child and teaching him the parts of the chair. Mastery of tacting would mean that the child is able to answer “legs”, “backrest” or “seat” when the instructor points to the respective parts and ask “What part is this?”. Therefore, the most effective way to teach intraverbals is to firstly ensure that tacting skills have been mastered.


In the ABA-VB program, mastery of intraverbals is our ultimate goal. We are able to achieve this with a non-verbal child using small, realistically attainable goals and progressing up the levels.


With a child who has yet to learn verbal skills, we start by doing basic drills that are within their ability, i.e. matching and sorting tasks. When the child is able to identify and match two identical objects together, we move on to teaching receptive tasks. This refers to them responding correctly to a given instruction such as “Point to the flower!”

With sufficient practice, we repeatedly strengthen the association between the object and its label. This allows for easier transition from receptive tasks to tacting (child naming an object while said object is presented to them).


As mentioned earlier, intraverbals are usually achieved first with the visual cue so the child understand what we are referring to. The eventual goal is to “faded” the cue, i.e. when the cue is removed, the child is still able to answer the question.


An example would be:

Instructor: “What is something you draw with?”

Child: “Pencils”,

where there are no stationary lying around that may serve as a visual cue.


Intraverbals are the highest form of verbal behaviour, in other words the most complex form. Its importance should not be disregarded. Consider how important it is for a child to be able to answer questions regarding personal information such as “How old are you?” or “where is your mummy?” in situations where these details are necessary. Examples include self-introduction or in the event that they are lost in a mall, they are able to seek help.


In time to come, intraverbals serve as the bridge to acquiring conversational skills, as all conversations are built on the basis of intraverbals. This skill allows a child to do so many things independently such as buying food on his own, expressing his emotions through words and even establishing relationships with others. A child who has yet to learn to communicate his thoughts using words will naturally feel frustrated or stressed out when people do not understand him. ABA-VB places great emphasis on teaching intraverbals and hence early intervention can make a significant difference to their lives! By working our way upwards, we can slowly but surely use this approach to achieve our desired outcome.


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