Confusing Mands and Tacts

Many people often confuse mands and tacts in practice when teaching a child with autism to talk in an ABA/verbal behavior program.
A mand is essentially a request.  A child mands when the motivation is high for an item, activity or information. For example, a thirsty child  says “water” while reaching for a cup of water.   This would be considered a mand.
Steps of Manding
1.  Child is motivated
2.  Child says or signs what they want.
3.  Item or action is delivered.
1.  Child wants to go on the swing.
2.  Child says swing.
3.  Parent puts child on the swing and pushes.
***For more information on manding go here, here, and here.
A tact is a label.  For example,  an adult points to an item and asks a child , “what is this?”  The child labeling this item would be considered a tact.
Steps of Tacting
1.  Child sees (or hears, smells, or tastes) something
2.  Child labels the item
3.  Sometimes adult gives social attention to the child.
1.  Adults points to a picture of a fish in a book and says, “what is it?”
2.  Child says fish
3.  Adult says, “yes! well done, that is a fish!”
When a child is first learning to talk,  an ABA/verbal behavior program should focus on teaching the child to mand in the natural environment, while playing the child’s favorite activities.  The reason for this is to teach the child that talking is beneficial and reinforcing.  In other words, talking is valuable.  When the child talks, good things happen! I say or sign “water,” I get water, I say or sign “iPad,” I get the iPad.
Being asked to label items (tact) may be extremely difficult for an early learner who is just learning to talk.  Parents should initially put more emphasis on mands because it may be truly difficult for the child to answer questions.  Also, the child may not be motivated by social attention.
One mistake I see very frequently when parents are first learning how to teach a child to mand,  is for them to ask the child “what is it?” (tact).   This often occurs when the child is not yet motivated for the item.   Instead, it is recommended that at first, parents focus on making activities fun and interesting to the child.  Once the child is sufficiently motivated, the parent can prompt the child to mand.
New parents and instructors may make this mistake often because asking “what is it?” is way easier than contriving motivation.  Contriving motivation is hard!  It takes lots of practice, a fast pace of instruction, solid planning, creativity, and in the moment quick thinking.
Tacts are very important and should  be taught at an appropriate time and with proper teaching procedures.    However, it is essential that the child’s parents and/or instructors understand the difference between these two operants in order to encourage success and to teach the child who is just learning to talk effectively.