Manding and Natural Environment Teaching (NET) are essential parts of an ABA program. Children with autism who are not talking or just learning to talk should be spending the majority of their time in the natural environment. During this time, they should be learning to mand. Check out 5 common mistakes I observe during manding sessions and what to do instead.
1) Not spending enough time contriving motivation
The child must want what you have before you make him or her or her ask for it. The person working with the child needs to spend a sufficient amount of time getting the “buy in” from the child for each activity. To do this, plan your activities with the child in mind. Think from the child’s perspective… What does he or she think is fun and interesting? Spend a few minutes demonstrating the activity and letting the child access the items/actions without formally manding for them. This will allow you to build the motivation. Also, it will allow you to observe if the child is truly interested. If the child is motivated, then set up the situation so that the child has to ask for a variety of items and actions.
2) Waiting too long to switch activities
An activity might be exciting at first to a child, but after 10-minutes it is boring. Anticipate the child’s motivation and move on to another activity before the child is bored. In other words, end each activity on a high note. You can always return to that same activity later in the session. This may reduce the likelihood that problem behavior occurs due to the motivation to escape the activity and keep your manding session productive.
3) Overusing vocal prompts
While vocal prompts are used as a teaching procedure for manding, it is important to consider when they are truly needed and to fade them out as soon as the child is ready. The person working with the child may be using vocal prompts without even realizing it. For example, I often observe instructors contriving motivation and when they are waiting for the child to declare the motivation, they say “bubbles?” with the intonation of a question. We want our children to be spontaneous and independent. We want our child to be able to mand when they see the item or even when the item is not present at all. Spontaneity is less likely if the child is dependent on hearing something (i.e. “What do you want?” “Do you want the iPad?” “Ball?” “Use your words” “Tell me what you want,” etc) as a signal to mand.
4) Not running extinction consistently when a child scrolls
Scrolling means the child is motivated for something but makes a mistake and says the incorrect word or a combination of the incorrect word and correct word. For example, the child is reaching for the water, but says “cup.” Or the child is reaching for “juice” and signs a combination of the sign for juice and water. It is important that extinction is running every single time this occurs. If the child has a history of reinforcement for scrolling, he or she will continue scrolling in the future.
5) Prompting a mand when the child is not motivated
This may seem obvious, but this happens so often! The person working with the child is so determined to contrive a high number of mands, that quality of mands is forgotten. “Forcing” a child to mand in a situation where he or she is not truly motivated is unproductive. Instead, focus on contriving motivation and waiting for the child to declare motivation. The declaration of the motivation can be determined by whether or not the child is looking at the item, reaching for the item, walking towards the item, etc. Look for something that child does that tells you, yes, the child is motivated, so now I can go for the mand.