The Benefits of Skinner's Analysis of Verbal Behavior for Children with Autism

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    • 00:00

      The Benefits of Skinner's Analysisof Verbal Behavior for Children with Autism.

    • 00:07

      MARK L. SUNDBERG: Hello, my name is Mark Sundberg.And I'm going to talk today about an articlethat Jack Michael and I publishedin 2001 in the journal, Behavior Modification.The title of the article was the Benefitsof Skinner's Analysis of Verbal Behavior for Childrenwith Autism.We began this paper by talking about whatapplied behavior analysis has done for autism

    • 00:29

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: over the past 30 or 40 years.The techniques for applied behavior analysis, or ABA,have been applied to a wide varietyof children with autism, as well asother developmental disabilities.In that paper, we point out the techniquesof prompting and fading, using reinforcement, task analysis,breaking things down into small steps,

    • 00:51

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: looking at highly structured curriculum-intensive teachinginterventions.These are some of the hallmarks of applied behavior analysisthat have been demonstrated successfullywith children around the world.In the paper, we make the suggestionthat Skinner's analysis can add to this basic foundationalready available in autism treatment.

    • 01:14

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: The primary issue with Skinner's analysis of languageand how it differs from other traditional analyzesof language is and how he treats the repertoiresof expressive and receptive language, as an example.If we look at traditional treatments of language,it's common to talk about expressive languageas emitting speech and saying particular words

    • 01:36

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: or writing sentences and so on.And receptive language is the understanding of words.What Skinner does is give you a further breakdownof each of those repertoires.For example, he suggests that expressive language is reallymade up of several different parts of language.He introduces some terms and talks about those terms.

    • 01:56

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: And what he does is apply basic behavior analysis to languageas behavior.For example, what Skinner suggestsis that using a word to ask for the thingsthat you want-- that is, asking for a crayonif a child would like to draw a picture--is different than being able to name a crayon whenthey see one.That is, being able to identify things

    • 02:18

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: when you see them-- a dog, a book and a car--is very different than being able to ask for those things,especially when they are absent.Skinner calls that asking repertoire of the mand.So manding is a type of language where what you sayand what you may sign-- if you are using sign language--or exchange with a picture system is a type of request

    • 02:39

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: that the source of control is under a type of motivation.That is, the child wants the crayon or they want the toy,they want to go outside.The mand is different from the tact,again, in that the tact is the type of language wherewhat a speaker says or signs is controlledby the physical world-- the things they see and hear.

    • 03:00

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: It's very important that a child learn both of those skills.They learn to identify things, but then theylearn to be able to ask for those things.That distinction between the mand and the tactis commonly lumped together in most treatments of language,and certainly in most of the autism treatment languageintervention programs.

    • 03:20

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: Skinner suggests that there are separate language skillsand that we should treat them separately.In addition, Skinner talks about what he calls the intraverbal.That is, being able to say that same word, crayon,not when you want it, not when you see itbut when people talk about it.So if I said, what do you draw a picture with?Now, a child's ability to say crayon

    • 03:41

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: is what Skinner would call an intraverbal.The issue is is that we can have the same word in a repertoire,but that word may appear under different kindof contingencies.And it's quite common with children with autismwhere they're able to identify an item,but not ask for that item or talk about that item

    • 04:01

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: when it's not present.In addition, it's important the child have the listener skills.So when I ask a child to touch the crayonthey're also able to find and locate that particular item.So the issue is basically, the same wordcan have multiple functions-- theycan have different sources of control,it can mean different things, it can have different places

    • 04:23

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: in a child's repertoire.And there are many other additional contributionsthat Skinner's analysis makes, but this is a fundamental onethat we identify in this paper.And what, again, we suggest is thatby incorporating this analysis alongwith our standard applied behavioranalysis procedures and techniques-- often

    • 04:45

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: called behavior modification or behavioral technology--along with this analysis of languageit potentially improves the chancesthat a child with autism is going to make greater gains.In this paper, we make several specific suggestionsas to how this might change some of our programming.I'd like to go over some of those.The first area is in the area of assessment

    • 05:06

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: and being able to identify what skills a child with autismmay or may not have.It's extremely important to conduct the kind of assessmentwhere we know can this child imitate our motor actions?Can this child echo our speech, for example?And then using Skinner's analysis,we'd also like to know what is the child's requesting

    • 05:27

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: or mand skills like?Are they able to use the words that theyhave in order to request the things that theymay need or want?It's important to assess separately, then,their tact repertoire-- their abilityto identify nouns, verbs, adjectives, propositions,noun-verb combinations, and so on.That is, can they describe and talkabout the features of the physical world

    • 05:48

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: that they live in?That's a very important part of an assessment.It's not just vocabulary size we're interested in,but we're interested in their functional use of these skills.Is a child able to engage in conversations?That is, the intraverbal as an example?Can they answer questions when weask questions about what do you liketo do with paper and pencil?

    • 06:09

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: Who is your favorite friend?And what kind of TV shows do you like to watch?These are what Skinner would call intraverbal,and it's important to assess those separately.The situation is that it's common to havea child with autism who may have 100, 200, 300 word vocabulary.For example, they are able to identifycars and dogs and books and shoes

    • 06:31

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: and so on, yet they don't use those words,as it's often talked about, in order to communicate.The use of those words can often be found in the mand condition.That is, I want these items, I'm able to communicatethat linguistic intent.Or the intraverbal, where I can talk about these items,engage in conversation.Skinner points out that language really requires all of those.

    • 06:52

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: We need to be able to talk about the things that we see.We need to be able to expand on them in terms of other thingsthat might be related to those and so on.And we need, also, to have those listener skills.We need to be able to understand whatother people are talking about.The most common assessment tools used for children with autism,such as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary

    • 07:13

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: Test, the Expressive One-Word Test, the Preschool Languageskills.While they're important tools and can do many things in termsof identifying particular needs for a child,they do not cover or look at the entire collectionof verbal skills.For example, the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Expressive versionof the test assesses just the tact repertoire--

    • 07:35

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: a child's spoken vocabulary and thendetermines to get any age equivalent score for that.What's a lost in that assessment toolis the child's ability to request.The mand repertoire and the intraverbal repertoireare not assessed in that tool.Recently, there was a paper publishedby Barb Esch, Kate LaLonde, and John Eschthat reviewed 30 of the common assessment tools used

    • 07:58

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: for children with autism.In that article, they point out that 28 out of the 30assessment tools that they revieweddid not include any measure of the mand repertoire.Well, it turns out that manding is quite a significant problemfor many children with autism.They're unable to express their needs and wants.They are not able to tell somebody they are in pain

    • 08:19

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: or to ask for a drink or to ask for outside, despite the factthat they may have a sizable vocabulary.Skinner's analysis breaks out the mand,describes its source of control and has lead the wayin terms of an intervention program thatallows you to teach this skill when it's missing.But also, then, an assessment tool.

    • 08:40

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: We've developed a tool called the VB-MAPP-- the VerbalBehavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program-- thatadheres to Skinner's analysis of languageas a framework for an assessment program for childrenwith autism.The second topic that we talk about in this paperis then the suggestion that these operantsare separate suggests that we need intervention programs that

    • 09:03

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: are going to develop all of these repertoires.That is, any individual program mayhave mand training comparts, learningto mand for nouns, mand for verbs, propositions,manding for adjectives-- I want the big chip, the little one,and so on.These are all very important for a child.Manding for information-- asking WH questions and such

    • 09:23

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: it's quite a different repertoirethan answering WH questions.That is, answering a WH question wouldbe an intraverbal-- quite a different typeof language skill.So in any given intervention program,depending on the child's level, we'regoing to want to be certain that these particular skills aredeveloped and built within the child's day

    • 09:44

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: to day functional language activities.So Skinner's analysis both serves as a guide for usfor language assessment and intervention.And again, not just for children with autism,but for any child who has language delays or languagedifficulties, communication difficulties.Skinner's analysis can help us revealproblems that ordinarily would not

    • 10:05

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: be addressed by other approaches,or typical kinds of approaches.A third point-- and I've mention this briefly already--is that Skinner has suggested the mand isa very critical part of day to day language skills.The mand-- again, which is requesting--is typically the first type of language that a child acquires.That is, crying functions as a mand

    • 10:26

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: early on, where a child can informtheir parent of their current need for warmth or comfortor food or removal of aversives such as cold airor a painful stimulation.A mand repertoire allows a child to, in a sense,control their physical environment-- allowsthem to interact with adults in waysthat adults can react more specifically to what

    • 10:48

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: their needs and wants are.Skinner makes the point that the mandis the only type of language thatdirectly benefits the child.When we're doing mand training with children,it's amazing how quickly you establish rapport--how you can get compliance, how you can teacha child other skills once they learn that through words--or signs or a picture icon exchange--

    • 11:09

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: that they can get the things that they want.This gives adults a very powerful kindof presence in a child's world.That the adult is the person that can meet their needsand wants and such.And the suggestion here, again, isthat mand training be added to any discrete trial program--ABA program-- or any intervention program that'sthe design to work with children with autism.

    • 11:32

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: Another topic that we talk about in this paperis the role that motivation plays as a teaching tool.Jack Michael, my co-author on this paper,has written several papers on the roleof the establishing operation in motivatingvariables and how they're different from stimulusvariables.The example of that is the mand and the tact.

    • 11:54

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: That is, I can ask for something that I might want,like a particular fire truck that might go with a firestation that I might have.I would do that if I were motivated to get that.A way to create that motivation would be somethingalong the lines of I give the child a toy firehouse,

    • 12:17

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: I give them a number of other thingsthat go with the fire station-- I give them the firemen--but I don't give them the fire truck.I increase the value of the fire truck,thereby increasing the probabilitythat the child will than emit the word fire truckor ask for fire truck, often with less or fewer prompts.That's the motivative variable.

    • 12:38

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: So I make-- contrive or create some motivationby making that fun.That's very different than stimulus effects.That is, I can hold up a fire truckand ask the child to name the fire truck.That's a separate type of control.Motivation is a very important part of human behavior.And if we incorporate that into our intervention programs

    • 13:00

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: in terms of the things the child wants or doesn't want,in terms a child to ask him to remove things that theymight find aversive to them.The suggestion also is that motivationcan be incorporated in teaching other skills, for example,intraverbal.We can teach children to talk about topicsthat they're very interested in-- they're motivated.

    • 13:21

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: So this suggestion again in this paper,is that basic principle of behavior-- motivation--can be turned into an important teaching tool.A fourth concept we talk about and in this paperis what Skinner identifies as automatic reinforcement.And by automatic reinforcement, Skinnerdescribes that much of our behavior

    • 13:41

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: is shaped and maintained by the physical world without anybodydirectly manipulating or contriving contingenciesor delivering edibles.That is, we learn a lot through the natural shapingthat the environment does for us.We learn to open a door-- we push it, the door opens.We learn to climb up carefully on steps--as you look at a young toddler learning to climb up on steps,

    • 14:05

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: the success and failure of getting up the steps oftennaturally shapes better and better climbing behavior.Early infant babbling is often acquired and maintainedbecause the sounds that a child emits are soundsthat the parent had emitted.And those sounds-- those particular phonemes--may have been paired and associatedwith strong reinforcers.

    • 14:26

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: And it's these reinforcers, again,there are important and significant to the child.A child who hears those sounds paired with those reinforcerslearns to discriminate between their mother'svoice and other voices.Those sounds become reinforcers.An infant who, then, is alone in a cribmay engage in babbling or vocal play.

    • 14:46

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: And over time, the sounds that the child begins to babblematch the sounds of the caretaker.And this is a universal effect-- childrenwill babble the sounds of the caretaker, regardlessof their genetic history.Well, Skinner provides a very nice analysisof how automatic reinforcement shapes upvocal behavior a very babbling, as well as motor behavior.

    • 15:07

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: From that, we've developed several techniques, then,for children with autism in termsof pairing, making learning fun, associating speech with that.Jack Michael, myself, and others haveconducted a number of research projectson how to use automatic reinforcement as a teachingtool.An additional topic that we discuss in this paper

    • 15:29

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: is that as language becomes complex,these repertoires begin to come together.That is, more complex issues such as learningto talk about events within your body-- emotion,being able to describe pain, being able to talkabout feelings and such-- involved complex languageskills.And Skinner's analysis can help usguide through the complexities of those issues as well.

    • 15:52

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: As well as more difficult parts of speech--relative adjectives, for example.Learning to say whether things are long or shortor big or a little are complicated discriminations.And being able to acquire those kind of languageskills and then connect them to a nounso that the adjective modifies the noun appropriately--whether it's on or a short pencil.Or whether it's a hot or cold towel and such.

    • 16:16

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: Learning to modify a noun with its propertyis quite complex behavior.And children with autism typicallyhave difficulty emitting that behavior.And again, Skinner's analysis can guide usthrough with an evidence-based, scientific analysisof how this occurs.As you look at a general introductory psychology book,it's common in that psychology book

    • 16:37

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: to have a chapter on learning.And typically, within that chapter on learningis the topic of operant conditioning--the work of B.F. Skinner, initially and primarily--and respondent conditioning, derivingfrom the work of Pavlov.Well, if we look at human learning and we look at autism,one of the biggest challenges we faceis the difficulty for children with autism to learn.

    • 16:59

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: And that's where Skinner's analysis has provided directionfor us in terms of basic ABA programs,how do we teach children that are difficult to learn?How can we establish learning patterns that are strong,that are generalized, that generative grammar occurs,we have emerging and untrained relations and such.And much of this is covered in Skinner's analysis

    • 17:22

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: of verbal behavior, and again, provides uswith guidelines in order to make kind of intervention decisionsthat we might need to make along the way.We can also get further guidance in termsof other, more complex issues.For example, the use of sign languageversus speech versus picture systemsis a common dilemma in many intervention programs.

    • 17:43

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: Which is the most effective for an individual child?And are there differences between those language systems?And there again, Skinner's analysisprovides us with direction and such.Inclusion is another topic within autism treatment.Is a child better served in a classroom environmentwith their age equivalent peers, or would theybe better served in a small group, special education

    • 18:03

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: classroom or intensive teaching kind of model?It depends on a number of factors.But again, these factors can be better understoodwithin Skinner's analysis of both learning human behaviorand especially language.Since language is such a key deficit for childrenwith autism, yet it's a major roleof a typical child's day in terms

    • 18:24

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: of how they interact with peers, their social behavior,social interaction with others.And all of these can be better understoodwithin a behavioral analysis of language and social behavior.Finally, there are many barriers thattend to be problematic for children with autism.You certainly know about it echolalian behavior problems--

    • 18:45

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: not compliance, rote responding, rigidity,and so on-- inflexibility, rigid routines and such.And these are all often behavior problemsthat can be analyzed within a behavior analysis.But when it comes to language-- for example, failingto request the things that you might want-- again,

    • 19:06

      MARK L. SUNDBERG [continued]: Skinner's analysis can help us sortthrough some of these issues.Our primary goal in this paper wasto present to the reader an overview of Skinner's analysisand how it can serve to improve the lives of childrenwith autism.Thank you.

The Benefits of Skinner's Analysis of Verbal Behavior for Children with Autism

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Dr. Mark L. Sundberg discusses an article he wrote on B.F. Skinner's analysis of verbal behavior in children with autism. Sundberg makes the suggestion that Skinner's analysis can be added to autism treatment already used, such as applied behavior analysis. Sundberg discusses autism and language, the mandating ability, and complex language and autism.

The Benefits of Skinner's Analysis of Verbal Behavior for Children with Autism

Dr. Mark L. Sundberg discusses an article he wrote on B.F. Skinner's analysis of verbal behavior in children with autism. Sundberg makes the suggestion that Skinner's analysis can be added to autism treatment already used, such as applied behavior analysis. Sundberg discusses autism and language, the mandating ability, and complex language and autism.

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