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Exploring 6 Different Types of Verbal Operants in ABA: Unlocking the Language of Behavior Analysis

verbal operants aba

As ABA educators and professionals, we work in the fascinating world of behavior analysis, where language takes on a whole new dimension. While others may refer to language as labeling, requesting, or conversation, we’ve developed our own specialized term, known as “verbal operants.”

Verbal operants — such as “mand,” “tact,” and “intraverbal” — form the foundation of language in the field of ABA.

You may be wondering why we complicate things with these unique terms. The truth is, these verbal operants are crucial building blocks within any ABA program. They’re the key elements we assess and develop to ensure a student’s language skills are well-rounded.

Consider this scenario: a student excels at labeling over a hundred everyday items (tact), but struggles to ask for those same items when they want them (mand). In this case, their ability to use their knowledge functionally becomes limited.

In this post, we’ll dive deep into six different types of verbal operants in ABA. We’ll explore the significance of each operant, understand their roles in language development, and discover how they contribute to the overall success of an ABA program. Whether you’re an ABA educator, professional, or simply curious about the intricacies of behavior analysis, this post will provide valuable insights into the power of verbal operants.

verbal operants aba at home

What Are Verbal Operants in ABA?

B.F. Skinner, a pioneering psychologist, categorized verbal operants, which form the foundation of language development. Ultimately, verbal operants are the building blocks of communication within the framework of ABA.

They’re functional units of language that encompass various forms of verbal behavior. These operants are essential in teaching individuals with communication challenges to effectively express themselves, comprehend others, and engage in meaningful interactions.

The Top 6 Verbal Operants

1. Mand

Mands are all about making requests. From asking for a glass of water to seeking attention, mand operants allow individuals to communicate their wants and needs.

For example, a child saying, “Juice” while pointing at their cup is a mand operant in action. Teaching mand operants is vital as they empower individuals to express themselves and meet their needs.

Example of a Mand

2. Tact

Tact operants involve labeling and describing items, actions, or events in the environment. They help individuals connect words to their sensory experiences.

For instance, when a child points to a dog and says, “Dog!” they are tacting. Tacting expands vocabulary and fosters expressive language development.

Example of a Tact

3. Intraverbal

Intraverbals revolve around responding to others’ statements or questions without any visual cue. Intraverbals facilitate conversation and social interactions.

For example, when someone asks, “What’s your favorite color?” and the child responds with, “Blue,” this is an intraverbal.

Developing intraverbal skills is crucial for engaging in meaningful back-and-forths. Another intraverbal example is filling in the blank, such as “1…2…” and the child says, “3”.

Example of Intraverbal

4. Echoic

Echoics involve repeating or imitating speech. Echoics lay the groundwork for speech sound discrimination and accurate pronunciation.

When a child imitates an adult saying, “Apple,” they use an echoic response. Echoics are a fundamental step toward building clear and accurate verbal communication.

5. Listener Responding (LR)

LRs involve understanding and responding appropriately to others’ communication. This can include following instructions, answering questions non-vocally, and comprehending conversations.

When a child listens to a teacher and follows directions, they are displaying LRs. These skills contribute to effective communication comprehension.

Example of Listener Responding

6. Motor Imitation

Motor imitation refers to an individual’s ability to copy others’ actions without being explicitly instructed. This skill is observed in children from a very young age as they imitate the gestures and movements of their parents or caregivers.

While some imitative behaviors can be prompted by directions such as, “Copy me” or “Do this,” true imitation does not require any explicit instructions. A child may observe and replicate the actions of others without being prompted.

An example of motor imitation is when you clap your hands, and the child repeats the motion. This skill is critical to language and social communication development, as it allows individuals to mirror the behaviors of those around them and learn how to navigate social situations more effectively.

Example of Motor Imitation
(See if you can catch the echoic!)

Strategies for Teaching Verbal Operants

When it comes to teaching verbal operants, employing effective strategies is essential for maximizing learning outcomes. Two key strategies within Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) are Individualized Instruction and Prompting & Reinforcement.

using verbal operants aba

Individualized Instruction

Recognizing that every individual possesses unique strengths, challenges, and preferences is crucial in tailoring instruction. Educators and therapists can create a more engaging and effective learning environment by customizing teaching strategies to align with each person’s specific needs, interests, and learning styles.

This approach not only enhances motivation but also capitalizes on the individual’s strengths, facilitating a more targeted and successful learning journey.

Prompting and Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a cornerstone of ABA — utilizing praise, rewards, or preferred items to reinforce correct verbal responses encourages individuals to engage in desired communication behaviors consistently.

Additionally, prompting techniques play a pivotal role in guiding learners toward desired outcomes. These prompts can take various forms — such as physical guidance, gestures, or verbal cues, based on the individual’s learning stage and the level of support required.

Educators promote independent communication skills by gradually fading prompts as the individual gains proficiency while providing the necessary blocks for success.

Verbal operants are the building blocks of effective communication within the realm of ABA. By understanding and teaching different types of verbal operants, individuals with communication challenges can develop functional language skills that enhance their quality of life. From making requests to engaging in conversations, these operants empower individuals to connect, express themselves, and thrive in their interactions with the world.

11 thoughts on “Exploring 6 Different Types of Verbal Operants in ABA: Unlocking the Language of Behavior Analysis”

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  3. Can you help me understand why the example on Cooper white book US edition page 535 “see the number 5” say “five” is an intraverbal?

    1. I do not have the same version of the Cooper text as you, so I cannot give a response to the example in the text.
      An intraverbal is when the speaker responds to verbal discriminative stimuli (and does not have point-to-point correspondence). The text/visual “5” may be the discriminative stimulus that evokes the verbal response “five”.

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