Verbal Behavior: The Verbal Operants

Verbal Behavior is behavior that is mediated by another person and includes talking, sign language, using an AAC device, and writing.  In Verbal Behavior, language is classified into different “categories,” called the verbal operants.  This classification is based on a functional analysis on how and why we use language.  The following is a summary and examples of each of the verbal operants.
Mand:  Asking for something you are motivated for (requesting).
– The child is thirsty, walks to the kitchen and is reaching for a cup, and says “juice”
– The child is motivated to watch a motive on the iPad, and signs “iPad.”
Tact:  Labeling something in the environment.
– The child is in the car and see’s an airplane and says “look, an airplane!”
– A teacher holds up a picture of a ball and says “what is it?” and the child signs “ball.”
Intraverbal:  Giving a response (talking, signing, etc) based on something someone else said.
– The child comes home from school and his mom asks, “What did you play today?”  The child says, “I played chase with Johnny.”
– The teacher says, “Tell me some animals” and there are no pictures of animals present.  The child signs, “horse, dog, cat, monkey.”
Listener Responding:  Following directions to do something.  No verbal response required.
– Mom says to the child, “go get your shoes.”  The child goes and gets his shoes.
– The teacher says “wave bye bye” and the child waves bye bye.
Mimetic/Motor Imitation: Copying what someone else has done.
– The teacher says “copy me” while clapping her hands, the child claps his hands.
– The child is in class and sees all the other students stand up, so the child stands up.
– The teacher says “do this” and signs car, the child signs car.
Echoic:  Repeating what someone else has said.
– The teacher says, “Say Mama” and the child says “Mama.”
In Verbal Behavior programs we teach across all of these verbal operants.  For example, the word ball, can be used in a variety of ways.  Saying or signing ball can mean, “I want the ball” (mand) or “I see a ball” (tact).  Also, saying the word “ball” could be used when asked “what is your favorite toy?” (intraverbal).  The verbal operants are functionally independent and just because a chid can tact (label) an item, does not mean he/she can ask for it (mand). This is why it is important to teach all meanings of a word!