What is Verbal Behavior?

Verbal Behavior (VB) is an Applied Behavior Analytic approach to teaching all skills, including language, to children withautism Autism Spectrum Disorders or other related disorders.  Language is treated as a behavior that can be shaped and reinforced.  This is done with careful attention given to why and how the child is using language.  Verbal Behavior uses similar discrete trial teaching (DTT) techniques such as “SD-response-consequence,” but the approach is slightly different.  VB programming focuses on “manding” (requesting preferred items).  If a child can request what he wants, his world is a better place.  Pairing is also used.  Pairing the table, instructors, and work areas/materials with reinforcement is important to a VB program.

Another key aspect of the VB approach is the idea of “teaching across the operants.” In Verbal Behavior, teaching the child the word “ball” would require several steps.

Steps to teach a Child the Word “Ball” Using Verbal Behavior:

  • The child can “mand” for the ball if they want it.
  • The child can receptively identify the ball (listener responding).
  • The child can expressively identify or label it (tact).
  • The child can match the ball to another ball (matching to sample).
  • The child can perform a motor movement using the ball (motor imitation).
  • The child can answer a question about the ball (intraverbal).
  • The child can repeat the word ball (echoic).
  • The child can identify the ball by it’s feature, function, or class.

Verbal Behavior IS:

  • An effective strategy for teaching children with developmental delays.
  • A balance between demands and reinforcement.
  • Applied Behavior Analysis.

Verbal Behavior is NOT:

  • A way to create rote, robotic responses from children.
  • A fad.  It is based on scientific principles and B.F. Skinner’s teachings on ABA.
  • DTT/Lovaas model.

It is important to keep in mind that teaching using discrete trials, prompting, fading, reinforcement and data collection are still key elements of any ABA program, including one using a Verbal Behavior approach.

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Adapted from: Barbera, M. L., & Rasmussen, T. (2007). The verbal behavior approach, how to teach children with autism and related disorders. London: Jessica Kingsley Pub.