The Power of Mand Training in ABA: Unlocking Communication and Confidence

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Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA is a well-established method for improving behaviors and interaction skills, particularly in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental or communication disorders. Manding or mand training is an important skill taught through  ABA in which people learn to make requests or “mand” to get what they want. 

Understanding Mand ABA 

What is a Mand? 

In simple terms, mands are requests for something an individual wants. They can be verbal or non-verbal and usually help individuals communicate to another person what they need, desire, or prefer. 

For example, a child can say “water” to indicate thirst and a desire to drink water. A more advanced mand would include more than one word such as “I want water,” or “I’d like water in the blue cup.” 

The Importance of a Mand in ABA

People with ASD often have difficulty communicating, making basic day-to-day interactions a struggle. They may not know how to communicate what they prefer or how to express their dislike, and may consequently end up feeling overwhelmed, agitated, or isolated. 

Mand training can help these individuals navigate the communication process by initially learning how to ask for something by making a simple request with a gesture, or a word and then gradually progressing toward using complete sentences and taking permission. Mands are a good skill to teach early because the reinforcement is natural, in that when they ask for something, they receive that thing, and not just praise or an unrelated item.  Once a person learns that they can access preferred items when they communicate, other communication skills may follow.  

As a result, mand training can help children or adults with communication disorders or reservations with verbal expressions to make their preferences clear, state something they want, and ask for something they need. These simple acts of communication are integral to living a fulfilling life. Some may take everyday communication for granted, but for autistic individuals who have more difficulty with communicating, specialized training is often necessary.

Teaching Manding in ABA Therapy

In mand training, therapists develop the communication skills of children and adults using a step-by-step approach. They first teach communication of a single word and then gradually add more words until the learner demonstrates fluent manding and communication. 

To implement mand training, a framework of the following three steps can be followed: 

  1. Identify a desired object or preferred option that a child appears to desire. 
  2. Verbally or with gestures prompt a mand from the child by revealing the item but withholding possession.
  3. Reinforce the mand by providing the preferred item instantly after the child successfully requests it.

Initial Assessment 

It is important to understand how developed the child’s communication skills are. Autism and growth look different for everyone, so there cannot be a singular, predefined approach in mand training. Therapists have to assess the learner, and then make a customized road map with realistic goals to meet the unique needs. 

Teaching Strategies

Remember, when teaching, to never withhold something that a child needs.  Children’s needs should be met unconditionally.  To practice, choose something that is not necessary, but is very desirable in the eyes of the child.  After the initial assessment, and with the basic framework in mind, the following strategies can be used to implement mand training in ABA therapy. 

Prompting and Fading 

Initially, therapists or parents can give prompts to their child to encourage a mand. Once this is mastered, they can try again without a prompt. The key here is to provide a little of what the child wants - so the demand persists and the child can practice or repeat manding. 

However, gradually reducing or fading the prompt is necessary to promote independence. Therefore, the quantity or duration of the desired item/activity should be increased over time so the child does not have to request something repeatedly. 

For example, a mother can say the word “juice” out loud to encourage her autistic son to say it too when he wants juice. A sip of juice reinforces this. Over time, the prompt can be faded.

Reinforcement

Mand training is ineffective without reinforcement. Therefore, it is important for the child to get what he or she is asking for, so they see “asking” or “requesting” as indispensable tools for expressing their desires. 

If mands of autistic individuals are not reinforced immediately , they may see mands as futile and find other, less desirable ways of achieving what they want. 

Benefits of Mand Training

Mands are one of the first forms of communication that people develop. It starts off naturally when babies cry when they are hungry. But with time, communication needs increase and simply crying doesn’t get the job done. This is where mand training can be influential. 

Enhancing Communication Skills

Mand training enhances communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal. This further promotes positive social interaction, increases the resolution of queries, leads to the access of preferred items, and can further the development of relationships and emotional intelligence. Communication, after all, is a building block for new experiences in life, and without good communication skills, people may miss out on meaningful relationships, character-building, personal growth, and educational opportunities. 

Reduction in Maladaptive Behaviors

An ancillary benefit of mand training is in the potential reduction of maladaptive behaviors. Tantrums, aggression, isolation, anger, and hostility can be the result of insecurities, lack of confidence, and frustration from not being able to achieve what is desired, and not knowing what to do about it. Mand training helps by encouraging positive experiences and successful communication. 

Strengthening Self-Esteem 

As individuals learn to express themselves successfully, they experience a sense of accomplishment, which boosts confidence and ultimately equips people to lead independent lives. The skills taught in mand training can further encourage people to try new communication methods and engage socially. 

Conclusion 

Manding in ABA therapy involves teaching people how to request something and reinforces their effort by providing the preferred item instantly. There are multiple ways of implementing mand training, and individuals must be assessed, so they can receive a customized growth plan to meet their specific needs. Mand training has multiple benefits such as elevating confidence,  enhancing communication skills, and often decreasing problem behaviors. Therefore, mand training is a helpful tool in improving the quality of life for individuals by encouraging them to learn to ask for what they want. 

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