What is Verbal Behaviour?
The Verbal Behaviour (VB) approach is a fairly new and popular approach that has emerged from the basic teachings of ABA within the last 10-15 years. The VB approach builds on all of the ABA research, but also enhances a child’s ability to learn functional language. It is used with children who are both verbal and nonverbal, and is best used with children who are not yet conversational.
The initial step of any VB program is to complete the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS). This curriculum-based assessment evaluates the child’s skills across 25 domains. Based on the results of the assessment, an individualized curriculum can be developed for the child.
The next step is to determine the child’s most preferred items and activities (reinforcers). Once the child’s reinforcers have been identified, the basis for a VB approach is to teach the child how to make requests (language, sounds, pictures, signs, AAC, etc.). B.F. Skinner called this a “mand” when he defined it in his 1957 book Verbal Behaviour. Manding is the centerpiece of VB programming.
The VB approach is very child-centered and it is therefore crucial that all the child’s reinforcers surround the instructor. The child will learn to associate the adult as the giver of all good things – this is done through a process called “pairing”. Pairing the work area, the table, the instructor with the child’s reinforcers is the key to beginning a VB program. If pairing is done effectively, the child should be running towards the instructor and the work area!
Example: Once a child can mand for a ball, we can build on this by teaching them to label a picture of a ball, to identify a ball from a set of items, and to answer questions about a ball.
This is how VB programming differs from standard (and more antiquated) ABA programs – the focus is on teaching the child to communicate effectively and provides a high level of interaction + fun!