Language Therapy: Where to Start?

Janine Shapiro, Co-Clinical Director of Access Behavior Analysis

The holy grail of language therapy goals is conversational language.  Parents understandably want to be able to ask their children about their day at school and for their children to tell them in return about the book read in library class or the game played during P.E.  I share in this goal with parents, and I program language targets with this end in mind.  But when a child with little language first enters through Access’ clinic doors, I hold a more immediate goal.  My first major goal, the goal that I will immediately target with tunnel-visioned determination, is “MANDING.”

What is manding?

A mand is essentially a request.  It is without a doubt the most potent use of language.  In fact, it’s the only type of language that benefits the speaker.  All other language benefits the audience.  For example, if you ask a child the name of his dog, and he responds, “Charlie,” that’s wonderful, but it doesn’t help the child in any way.  However, if you teach a child to request his favorite toys, for example, “Thomas the train,” you’ve given a child a good reason to talk and interact with others: to get what he wants!  The mand is incredibly powerful.  Typical children request hundreds upon hundreds of times per day, and we strive for the same with our patients. 

Manding Counts

Most of Access’ therapists have clicker counters hanging from their belt loops or attached to their clipboards.  For the majority of our early learners, these counters are being used to track mands.  When a learner independently makes a request, the therapist clicks one counter.  When the therapist prompts the learner to request an item or activity, and the learner successfully responds, another click on a different counter.  At the end of the day, these numbers are graphed and analyzed by a behavior analyst. 

Behavior analysis has some pretty nifty tricks for teaching requesting.  These are techniques that I love sharing with my fellow speech-language pathologists, who immediately recognize their value.  My next few blog posts will focus on what to do, as well as what to avoid, when teaching children to request. 

In the meantime, here’s a video that discusses the mand and its vital role in teaching language to early learners. 

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