Simply put, a mand is a request for something. When we say things such as, “I want a cup of water” or “I would like to eat some ice-cream” to someone, we are manding. Essentially, manding is the skill of asking for something we want.
And as humans, we constantly have wants and desires to fulfill.
First and foremost is the fulfillment of our basic needs such as food, water, and air; our biological needs. As these are crucial to our survival, we are most strongly driven to attain them – edibles (to satisfy our hunger) and water or other drinks (to satisfy thirst). The technical term for them would be “primary reinforcers”. However, for obvious ethical reasons, we do not use these as a reward when the child is in actual need of the item. We do not withhold food from children when they are hungry. When food or drinks are used in therapy sessions as rewards, they are often special items that cannot be easily attained (eg. a snack or drink the child likes but does not often get).
Second; beyond our biological needs, we also have other needs to attend to, such as pleasure, pain avoidance, and social connections. For a child, pleasure might come in the form of toys, videos, or something entertaining to them. Pain avoidance would likely be the escape from things unpleasant to them, and of course, more directly, the avoidance of physical pain. And finally, regarding social connections, a child would most probably want attention and interactions with their primary caregivers or other people around them. This could be another child they see at the playground, a neighbour, close relative, or any other person they meet.
Why are manding skills so important?
As previously mentioned, humans constantly have wants and desires to fulfill. Hungry? We want food. Thirsty? We want water. Bored? We want some entertainment. Clearly, it would be no different for a child.
What do you do when you really want something but are unable to attain it?
You begin testing all sorts of ways and methods to get to your desired object. That is what a child does too! If they cannot get an item on their own, they will do something to communicate their desire.
Often, because a special needs child might be slower to develop verbal skills or the understanding of communication, they have deficits in their ability to mand. This results in warped communication methods that may become set as the norm.
Child: (Sees a snack he really likes. Shouts and attempts to grab the item.)
Parent: (Realises the child wants the snack. Gives it to him.)
In this scenario, the well-meaning parent gives the snack to their child who has just displayed some rather inappropriate behaviour. In ABA, we would say that the parent has reinforced the child’s inappropriate behaviour (shouting and grabbing of items). A reinforced behaviour is behaviour that is rewarded, thereby increasing their occurrence. This is problematic because we do not want our children to be shouting and trying to snatch items from people whenever they see something they like.
This is exactly why manding skills are crucial and are often a core aspect of our therapy. They are essential for reducing problematic behaviour.
With a stronger ability to appropriately mand/ask for the things they want, our children are less likely to resort to alternative ways of communicating their desires to us. Not only are we keeping our children happy, we are also helping them take a step closer to the ability to live well as the social beings they are.
When do we teach manding skills?
Manding is taught as early as possible in the program and is a constant work-in-progress. As therapists spend only a limited amount of time with the child, primary care takers such as parents or helpers are encouraged to participate in helping the child practise manding skills. Without doubt, manding is one of the most essential skill a child needs, and one that will be used frequently for a long time to come.
Come speak to us now, to find out more how we can work closely with you to ensure that you will understand your child’s behaviors and learn how to manage them.