Manding With ‘Wh Questions’

Many of our students struggle with initiating language and conversation.  This is why there is usually a strong emphasis on manding and requesting in an ABA program.  Teaching them to ask for things that they want builds a relationship of communication between the child and others. Basic manding teaches a child to ask for tings like toys, food, and even attention and help. More advanced manding teaches students to request for information using ‘wh questions’ like “Who is it?” or “Where is it?”

It doesn’t matter how many ‘wh questions’ the student can answer, look more carefully at their manding repertoire.  Before teaching “Manding with Wh Questions”, the student should be able to mand for items, attention, help and even protests.

Manding with “Where?”

Hide preferred items and then use a text cue to teach them to say, “Where is it?”  For example, if the child likes going to the park, grab their shoes and hide them.  As the child goes to the closet to get the shoes, have the text cue ready and available to prompt them to say something like, “Where is it?”

Manding with “Who?”

Once a student has mastered asking “Where are my shoes?” you can answer with “Someone has them” and prompt the student to ask “Who?” If you don’t have extra people available during sessions, use stuffed animals or characters that “have” the items.  For example, you can say, “Mickey Mouse has the candy” and then the candy is under Mickey Mouse.

Manding with “What?”

Typical kids request with “what” before any other ‘wh question’ but it’s often a harder situation to contrive.  You could hold up an item that the student doesn’t know and contrive the student to ask, “What is it?” but the student likely isn’t motivated to find out about some thingamijig that he doesn’t know about.  Second, once the student figures out the label of that item, they won’t need to ask and then you’re going to quickly run out of items!  You can contrive more motivating situations to ask, “What is it?” by putting some preferred (unknown) items in a bag and prompting the student to ask, “What is it?” Then, pull out a preferred item, “It’s a ball!” and the student can play with it as reinforcement.

PRT (Pivotal Response Training) would encourage the motivation to be intrinsic in the response and not an external reinforcer.   So when contriving situations for a student to ask “What is it?” it’s ideal if the item they’re asking about is the reinforcer.  Then, you can fade the frequency of reinforcement so that:

  • Put favourite items in a bag.  Then prompt student to ask, “What’s that?” (and then you pull their favourite things out of the bag and label it)
  • Then: Every 4th item is an unknown – students ask, “What’s that?” because of behavioural momentum.
  • Every 3rd item in an unknown
  • Every 2nd item in an unknown
  • Fade bag
  • NOTE: Don’t make this program into a huge language drill – after student asks, “What’s that?” just label it.  Don’t get them to count or label colour, etc. or you will extinguish motivation

Manding with ‘wh questions’ can be an ongoing goal to include. Be creative!  Ask everyone on the team to pitch in and offer suggestions and scenarios.  Eventually, you can begin to take clicker (frequency) data to see how many ‘wh mands’ you can contrive and elicit!

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