Whether you have a child with autism or are simply curious about the ins and outs of the disorder, there are many new phrases you’ll need to learn. One of the most important of these is the term “mand” or “manding”. As a parent or caregiver, chances are good that you already instinctively understand what this means and have recognized it in your children, but you might not be aware of the way it is used in autism treatment. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, in particular, uses the term as a foundation for its treatment options.
We’ll offer the information you need to know about “manding” and how it affects your child’s ABA therapy experience.
What is "manding"?
“Manding” is a term commonly used in the fields of ABA and communication development. It is most often used when working with people who have communication difficulties, such as children with autism or other developmental disorders.
Manding refers to a specific type of verbal behavior used in two different situations. First, manding is used in situations where an individual makes a request for something they want or need. Second, it is used in situations where people ask for something undesirable to end. In simple terms, it’s a way for someone to ask for what they need or desire.
You can think of a “mand” as a simple form of command saying “I want this!” or “I don’t want this!”. This is one of the very first kinds of communication techniques we master as humans. As babies, for example, we cry to get attention from our parents to express our needs. A baby that is hungry, for example, will express this behaviour to its caregivers.
There are a variety of mands used in all sorts of situations. The speaker of the mand might ask for items like food and toys, for example, but there are also more advanced manding skills. Mands for adjectives, for example, can help children express speed (fast or slow), direction (up or down, left or right), and even colors. Mands for actions exist, too, where the speaker demands that the situation in question end. These include mands to stop, indicating “all done”, or miming “no”.
Through the subsequent interactions, the behavior is reinforced and becomes our first form of communication skills. The act of manding serves the immediate interests of the child and serves as a cornerstone for developing subsequent language abilities, such as naming and recognizing objects.
How is manding taught?
What happens when a child really wants something but doesn’t know how to ask for it using traditional, age-appropriate communication or via manding? In this situation, a behavior analyst will help the child learn how to communicate their desires. They’ll do this naturally throughout the day. Teaching this communication, known as “manding” as we described above, involves showing the child what to say when they want something and giving them chances to copy or imitate that request before they get what they want.
For example, let’s say you’re playing with your child and building a puzzle. The instructor might say “puzzle” when they give you the first few puzzle pieces. They’ll also watch to see how your child reacts to make sure they’re interested in the puzzle pieces. If your child seems interested and tries to ask for the puzzle pieces, the instructor will wait a short moment (1–2 seconds) for your child to ask for the pieces themselves before giving them more as positive reinforcement to their behavior. This kind of training is one of the ways children with autism learn communication behaviors.
As a side note, if, during these learning sessions, your child doesn’t seem interested or doesn’t ask for the pieces within that short time, the therapists might switch to a different activity or item that they think your child might like and try to create motivation to mand for that instead.
Once your child starts learning how to ask for things (manding”, the instructor will encourage them to do it independently. Here’s how it works: If the instructor says “cookie” before your child asks for one, they get a piece of cookie. But if your child says “cookie” by themselves while reaching for it, they get a whole cookie to really reinforce the behavior.
With practice, the child in question will become very good at asking for what they want all on their own. This enables them to strengthen their independence and encourages them to verbalize (or otherwise confidently signal) their wants and needs.