Let’s Learn ABA: Mands

Hi BTL Fam!

Let’s learn some ABA! Specifically, let’s jump into what a mand is. If you are familiar with ABA, you probably have heard the term mand and if not, you most likely have no idea what a mand is.

A mand may also be referred to as a request. This can including asking for something, asking a question, demanding, inquiring, or commanding.

Basic Definition

Vocally emitted, signed, or picture response that is evoked by motivation for a desired item, activity, or information

A mand is emitted in our daily lives hundreds of times each day and we don’t even realize it. Typically we do not think of ourselves engaging in verbal behavior. It comes naturally to us!  However, think of how many times you may say “Give me that”, “I need a drink”, “I want to eat__”. We also mand without using our words. For example, if you point to a needed item with the expectation that another individual may bring it to you. When thinking in ABA terms, we are always requesting items due to some sort of motivation, thus Manding!

We aim to increase and teach mands to help individuals with autism communicate with the world around them. If you want more information on the importance of communication, it may be helpful to read our “Verbal Operants” entry!

If an individual can mand for a preferred item or activity, they have the ability to make a request for their wants and needs. This is an important skill to have when wanting to increase independence as well as communication. ABA professionals work towards increasing mands and may be a  core component of your child’s ABA program.

Why do we teach mands if we are working to decrease problem behaviors? 

Think of an instance where a problem behavior (i.e tantrum, elopement, aggression, screaming, etc.) has been emitted. Was the individual wanting something? Did they need help? If yes, a mand could have prevented that behavior from happening. For example, by replacing screaming with a mand for “I need help”, we can better meet the needs of that person.

My child does not communicate vocally, why are mands important? 

Verbal Behavior does not necessarily mean “Vocal”. If your child communicates via sign language or other alternative communication, they still have the ability to make requests with their preferred communication. We may teach a sign for “more” to request “more play”. This is still a mand! Pushing the “cookie” button on an AAC device would also be a request for “cookie”. Therefore, these requests for preferred items or activities are all leading to the result of obtaining that item or activity.

My Consultant doesn’t have mands in the program but my child needs to increase communication! 

It is true that mands increase communication; however, there is most likely a very good reason why mands aren’t in the program yet! Some kiddos aren’t ready to begin requesting for items yet. Your child’s consultant my be taking data on reinforcers, teaching play skills to increase motivation, or working on an echoic program. Sometimes, a consultant will need to “shape” vocal behavior into an understood mand. For example, if a child can emit “buh” and is motivated for “bubbles”. The consultant may be working on echoic training to shape the vocal “buh” into a mand for “bubble”. Many verbal operants work together to increase communication. However, any concerns should always be directed towards your child’s consultant for more information.

Here at BTL, “it’s all about the mands,” giving your child an active “voice!”

By: Heidi Mann, BCBA, Outreach Consultant