Manding 101

Manding and natural environment teaching (NET) are two essential components of an ABA program for children with autism who are not yet talking or are behind in language development. Unfortunately, there is a misunderstanding that ABA involves a child sitting at a table for hours and hours.  This is a terrible ABA myth!  If a child has no functional communication he or she should be spending 80-100% of the time in therapy learning to mand in the natural environment.
What is a mand?
To speak loosely, a mand is a request.  At the most basic level, a mand is a request for an item or an action.  For example, a child says “ball” when motivated for the ball or signs “jump” when he or she wants to jump.
However, as a child further develops language, mands get more complex.  Some examples include manding using prepositions, pronouns, adjectives (“Mommy, on Friday I want to ride my bike to Sarah’s house”) and manding for information (Where is my iPad?).
The Verbal Behavior Milestones and Assessment Placement Program (VB-MAPP, Sundberg) is the assessment I typically use to assess and design an ABA program.   The mand section of the VB-MAPP provides guidelines for the sequence in which children learn mands.
The most important aspect of the mand is that the motivation is present.  Specifically, a mand is not a mand if the child is not interested or does not care.  Here are some more examples of manding at various levels of development:
– The child mands when the item is present.
The child sees the juice on the counter, is thirsty, and then signs “juice.”
– The child mands when the item is not present.
The child is reading books with his Mom inside.  The child says “swing” and starts walking towards his shoes indicating he wants to go outside and swing.  In other words, the child did not see the swing and asked for it.  As behavior analysts we say this is under control of the motivational operation.  There is no stimulus in the environment prompting the child to say “swing.”
– The child mands for another person to perform an action.
For example, the child lifts his arms up to Daddy and signs “spin,” indicating that he wants Daddy to pick him up and spin him around.
– The child mands for a missing item.
For example, Mom gives her son a bowl of ice-cream and not the spoon.  The child is motivated to eat the ice cream and therefore the spoon momentarily becomes very valuable!  The child signs “spoon.”
– The child mands using a verb-noun combination.
The child is playing ball with his sister.  He says “kick the ball,”  “roll the ball,” or “throw the ball” to specifically indicate what he wants his sister to do.
– The child mands from his/her peers.
The child is playing play doh with another child at school.  The child is motivated for the green play doh, but it is out of his reach.  The play doh is next to the other child he is playing with.  The child says “green play doh” and the other child hands him the play dough.
– The child mands for information.
Mom arrives home with a bag from the toy store and the child cannot see what is inside.  The child says “what’s in the bag?”
– The child mands using a variety of adjectives, prepositions, pronouns.
The child is playing trains with his instructor.  There are a variety of tracks and different colored trains present.  The child says, “Can I push the green train through the tunnel?”