Manding – A Very Important Target!

This is a juicy one.

Once you’re paired with your learner, you should begin manding. A mand is a request for a desired item/activity/action/information. The word ‘mand’ is derived from ‘demand or command’. This skill area is very important as it allows learners to access their environment and communicate their needs. The more functional requests a learner has, the less likely other, undesirable behaviours will serve the mand function (e.g. crying, whining, hitting etc. in order to get something).

The first thing you should do is to contrive (build) motivation. You should never prompt a mand when there is no motivation (don’t require your learner to say/sign for something unless you’re sure they want it). Some learners will make this obvious; reaching for an item, pointing to something, but others will make you work for it; maybe a subtle look at the item, or simply tolerate it being around.

Sometimes it may take time to build motivation, and you may need to try a variety of items/activities before the learner has motivation to mand. This is fine, be sure to not rush, motivation is really important when teaching a mand repertoire. If the learner isn’t motivated, try and up your game!

Make sure you ‘cleanse the environment’, in other words, don’t have the learners’ favourite things freely available elsewhere, otherwise why do they need to come to you? Keep reinforcers under your control.

Little and often. The smaller/less duration you deliver a reinforcer, the more likely you are to keep motivation high, and get more teaching trials. Say you’re teaching a mand for ‘biscuit’. Break that bad boy in to tiny pieces. One biscuit can go a long way. If each time your learner says biscuit you give them a whole one, you’ll go through loads, and they’ll probably get full pretty quick! 15 trials from one biscuit is better than 1 trial for one biscuit. You must also consider the learner losing motivation if you are too tight-fisted with reinforcement.

Another good habit to take on is to pair (associate) the item with the vocal/sign you require the learner to do. For example, when playing with a ball, repeatedly saying ‘ball’ when you do it; this will increase the likelihood of requesting spontaneously.

Be sure to use differential reinforcement throughou manding. The more spontaneously and independently the learner is manding, deliver more of the reinforcer, and less for weaker responses. Think of it like performance related pay!

The immediacy of the reinforcer is important, the quicker the reinforcer is delivered, the more likely it was because of the behaviour that preceded it (e.g. the vocal/sign), which we want to encourage. Also, the longer you take to deliver the item, the more likely a less desirable behaviour may occur. Deliver the item sharpish.

It’s important to errorlessly teach – don’t let the learner error when manding (leaving it too long before prompting, or manding incorrectly). Prompt as much as needed to respond correctly. It’s important to remember, use the most effective, but least intrusive prompt. Prompt him enough to respond correctly, but don’t over prompt, it’s a very fine line. Over time, prompts can be faded.

Intersperse mands. Don’t teach one at a time. For early learners, work on 5-10 initially. As a general rule, don’t do more than 3-5 of the same mand in a row, mix it up.

This final point gets a mixed review. Don’t choose generalised mands (vague mands, ‘more’, ‘again’, ‘please’). This probably goes against what most people out of the field will advise you to do. But think of it like this….you’re playing with the learner, surrounded by toys – cars, trains, planes, balls – having a good old play. You’re doing loads of cool stuff, having a lovely time, and the learner says ‘more’ or ‘again’. You do what you think the learner wants (1 of the many things you have been doing), but you don’t do what the learner wanted, so they engage in problem behaviour. Bad times. This can all been avoided if we teach specific mands from the off, such as ‘car’, ‘train’, ‘plane’, ‘ball’, notmore’.

I’ve been trained to mostly take trial by trial mand data, recording individual mands as they occur, recording prompt levels, and vocal approximations (if needed) which is definitely needed for those learners who have a developing mand repertoire, especially if you’re trying to shape vocals. Data for this is pretty intense, but it’s necessary. Data is our friend, and ensures we are making the correct decisions for that learner.  

So, get some potential reinforcers together, decide on the mands you want to teach, have fun, and get stuck in!

16 of my Favourite Reinforcers

Over the years, I’ve built a pool of reinforcers that I like to give a go, and most of these are amongst my kit. 28ADDBBE-A6AA-4FF0-A10E-1C66C71B44C5IMG_1428

  1. Crazy Soap
  2. Bionic Putty
  3. Bubble Snake Blower
  4. Fibre Optic Fountain
  5. Bubble Lamp
  6. Balloons
  7. Water Balloon
  8. Moody Squeeze Fa
  9. Water Snake4504DB6A-55A6-43FA-A0F2-46F1B7238669
  10. Hot Water Bottle
  11. Slinky
  12. Expandable
  13. Flashing Bounce Spike
  14. Playdoh
  15. Spinning Top
  16. Bubbles

You can check out more ideas on my amazon list here.

Remember, these are just some ideas, there’s no guarantee they will serve as a reinforcer. Try them in different ways, think about what your learner will like, encourage them to try new things, and have fun!

3 and a ½ Top Assessments – My Favourite Assessments

Assessment days are manic. You never really know how it’s going to go. I arrive, boxes of resources, ready to work my socks off. It can certainly be a struggle fitting a whole assessment in in one day, but it depends on different factors; how much problem behaviour (if any) the learner engages in, and the skill level of your learner.


Your consultant should do some form of baseline when they start the programme. I’ve always been trained to design a learners individualised curriculum based on the assessments, using assessment goals to design the programme. This seems like common sense to me, it’s a great way to track goals/progress. I like to update the assessments around every 6 months. I also update them if there will be a change in provision, or sooner than 6 months if there’s been a big jump/regression in the learners’ skills.



VB MAPPI love the VB MAPP. This is my most commonly used assessment. It’s a great assessment to get a good baseline of the learners’ skills and barriers to learning. VB MAPP stands for ‘Verbal Behaviour Milestones Assessment and Placement Program’ (VB-MAPP, Sundberg, 2008), which was largely influenced by B.F. Skinner’s (1957) ‘Analysis of Verbal Behaviour’ (find out more about verbal behaviour here). The VB-MAPP can make it easier to compare the current abilities of a learner to those of a ‘typically’ developing child as it highlights a students’ strengths and weaknesses of a variety of critical skills. The assessment breaks down skills in to small achievable goals, and is split across 3 levels, covering 16 different skill areas. These skill areas comprise of areas such as;

  • Mand – (request)
  • Tact – (label)
  • Motor Imitation
  • Listener responding (following instructions)
  • Intraverbal (fill in statements, answering questions)
  • Social skills
  • Play skills
  • Visual skills
  • Group responding
  • Classroom skills
  • Echoic (vocal imitation)
  • Spontaneous vocal output
  • Listener responding by feature, function, and class
  • Reading 
  • Writing
  • Math

The VB MAPP is awesome



The ABLLS-R (Assessment of basic language and learning skills- Revised) is another excellent assessment. It is used to assess current levels that the learners are working at, and helps structure the programmes we run with the learners.ABLLS-R

It provides a comprehensive review of skills from 25 skill areas that most typically developing children acquire up to the age of 4 years of age. The goals in the ABLLS-R are usually ‘chunkier’ (larger criteria for mastery), and aren’t as developmentally sequenced as the VB MAPP goals. The ABLLS-R covers some skill areas that the VB MAPP doesn’t, such as self care skills.  When designing individualized curriculum, I like to use goals from the ABLLS-R and VB MAPP together.



AFLSThe AFLS (Assessment of Functional Living Skills) comes in 6 different books;

  • Basic Living Skills
  • School Skills
  • Home Skills
  • Community Participation
  • Independent Living Skills
  • Vocational Skills


The authors define functional skills as ‘commonly age appropriate skills that are used everyday for typical activities and routines and are essential for independence’. Basically, what skills does someone that age need to live as independently as possible.


The AFLS was developed over several years analysing which skills are required for daily functioning in various settings and independent life within the community. The assessment was designed to further refine and teach additional skills of independence, social interactions, work participation, and other independent living skills.


There is a certain point in a learner’s life when conceptual learning, like sorting shapes and colours, needs to be replaced with specific practical skills required to improve learner’s independence (Partington and Mueller, 2012).


This assessment is good to use for learners who are secondary school age, particularly from 16 years old.


Essentials for Living

My homework is to look in to this assessment more. A few colleagues talk highly of this, and from what I do know, it’s a good assessment for teenage + learners who have more severe developmental difficulties.efl


I’d be interested to hear if anybody recommends any other cool assessments! You can buy these assessments here at Treezy, which is a lovely website for resources!




  • Partington, J and Mueller, M (2012). The Assessment of Functional Living Skills. Pleasant Hill, CA: Behaviour Analysts, Inc; Stimulus Publications
  • Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal Behaviour.  New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts
  • Sundberg, M. L. (2008). The Verbal Behaviour Milestones Assessment and Placement Program: The VB-MAPP. Concord, CA: AVB Press.

6 Top Drawer Blogs

  1. Sam Blanco BCBA –

This is a great blog for teaching ideas through play and games. The blogger links goals to the VB MAPP and ABLLS-R, and covers a range of skill areas. Also prices and information about the resources she uses are provided. Cracking resource this blog.


  1. Tameika Meadows, BCBA –

A very well established blog, with loads of content, a big part of the reason I started writing a blog. A nice user friendly read. Top drawer.


  1. Leanne Page, BCBA –

Good website with lots of links to helpful resources. Plenty of blog posts to get stuck in to, with guest writers and links to other cool blogs. Lovely stuff.


  1. Deborah Leach, BCBA + Jennifer Rodecki, BCBA –

A good website that includes information about ABA within the classroom. It has some sample lesson plans to teach certain skills. Worth a look!


  1. Amanda Kelly, BCBA –

Awesome website, great branding. Lots of helpful links and resources about ABA. Very prominent on twitter as well! You should definitely get stuck in.


6. Kirsty Angel, BCBA – Busy Analytical Bee –

I’ve been a big fan of this newsletter since day one. Covers lots of interesting topics, has some solid study tips, teaching ideas, resources, and training opportunities, as well as interviews with influential people. On top of all of this, she’s flying the UK flag for ABA. You’ve got to sign up. 


I’ll expand this list, as and when I come across more decent blogs/websites. If you have any, please add them in the comments box!

I Love Pairing – 9 Tips to Pair Effectively

Pairing is a great chance to get to know what your learner likes, and how they like it. It’s a  time to be creative, and try things you may not usually do.


When I started at Treetops, pairing was the first thing they said I should do. I had no idea what pairing entailed, but they said ‘just have fun’. In the simplest explanation it is ‘having fun’ but it an analytical way (wow, analytical fun sounds boring).


Pairing is a great chance to be a big kid!


You should give reinforcers freely, with only the expectation that the learner stays with you. Place very few demands, keep reinforcers under your control (not freely accessible), and help the learner realise that the most fun can be had when you are around. We want our learners to be running too us, not away! 


There’s no time frame for pairing, it’s taken me 30 minutes before, and with some learners I don’t think I’ve ever fully paired with, each learner is different, and there are many variables to consider. We should adapt to our learners, some children love really enthusiastic therapists, and others prefer calmer approaches.


The process of pairing is based on stimulus stimulus pairing, the process of taking a neutral stimulus (the therapist) and associating them (pairing) with established reinforcers (learners’ favourite items).


Here are 9 tips to help you pair with the learner more effectively;

  • Be fun – if you’re not having fun, chances are your learner isn’t.
  • Relax – you’ll have more fun if you do!
  • Variety – use everything and anything at your disposal (including household items you can make fun).
  • Prepare – to an extent anyway, plan some fun activities, but don’t be disappointed if your learner isn’t interested (which can be devastating if you’ve spent time setting something up).
  • How does your learner like it? – you may set painting up with paint brushes etc, but maybe your learner wants to foot paint?
  • Go with the flow – mostly anyway, it’s important to follow your learners’ motivation, but you also don’t want them to dictate everything!
  • Be a giver not a taker – freely deliver lots of awesome things to your learner (for items such as a bouncy ball, you’re probably thinking ‘how can I get that back?’ Just offer something else the learner wants whilst taking back the bouncy ball, that way you’re still ‘giving’ even though you’ve taken back the ball).
  • Model – whether you work with a vocal learner or a signer, model the sign and/or vocal when delivering the items (remember, it’s not a requirement for the learner to emit a response (mand) during the pairing process, but if they do, deliver lots of the reinforcer).
  • Analyse – make notes of things your learner likes and dislikes, how they like it, how you can build on it, whether you’ll target them as mands etc. get to know your learner!


Another useful point to remember is that pairing isn’t permanent. If you’ve been on a school holiday, your learners not been well, or there’s been a big incident of problem behaviour, then it may be necessary to go back to pairing temporarily. It’s always good to start the session with some pairing. 


Pairing is so important, and shouldn’t be seen as something to rush through and get to the learning. This is the time you’ll get the learner to want to learn! Have fun. Smash it.

23 Free iPad apps for kids

Here’s a list of cool free apps – all of which I have on my iPad. There’s a mix of math, phonics, visual, fun and more! If anybody has any others to bring to the table, please comment on the post!

  1. Funbrain Jr
  2. Endless Reader
  3. ABC Pocket Phonics lite
  4. My First Alphabet Phonics: Learn
  5. First Word Samplers
  6. Initial code
  7. Very Hungry Caterpillar – Play and Explore
  8. Justins World – Animal Sounds
  9. Disney Storytime
  10. Fireworks Arcade
  11. Sort it out 2
  12. Peppa Pig Paintbox
  13. Sensory Magma
  14. Sensory Electra
  15. Sensory Speak up
  16. Sensory iMeba
  17. Animal Puzzle Free – Drag and Drop
  18. An educational shape matching game for kids and toddlers
  19. Touch Follow Free
  20. Fluidity
  21. Burger
  22. Memory game with animals, Dinosaurs and Dogs
  23. Splash Math

You can download them all in the app store (sorry if they’re not on Android devices!), everyone loves something for free!

Is ABA all about Punishment?


This is a tough piece to write, as it’s a bit of a delicate subject to approach, but I thought I may as well get stuck in. 

There is a common misconception about ABA, that it heavily relies on punishment. This is not true.

Two consequences are reinforcement or punishment. Now, punishment is a word that has many negative connotations, but it shouldn’t. Punishment is a consequence that decreases the future likelihood of a behaviour. Punishment as the field of ABA defines it is not as sinister as the general perception of punishment may be. Most views on punishment are probably misguided, uninformed, and/or outdated. Punishment has helped us thrive as a species,and played a big part in all our lives. 


The misconception is probably because oDoctor_review_brain_imagesf early research in to punishment in the field of
ABA, when punishment was a lot more common. Times when children would still get the cane at school, or you’d get a ‘clip round the ear’ if you did something wrong. But science evolves, ABA has moved a long way since then, just like people’s beliefs have. Science is always advancing, finding more effective ways to get better results; so is ABA. Whilst I was studying, my supervisor (Gina
Tirri, BCBA) spoke of how doctors aren’t treating all illnesses the way they were treated over 60 years ago, and that they use the most up to date treatments available to them, as do behaviour analysts.


Punishment occurs daily for everyone. A punisher is ANYTHING that occurs after a behaviour that reduces the future likelihood of the behaviour;

  • If you eat food that’s too hot and it burns your mouth, and you don’t do the same thing straight after, then the behaviour of eating piping hot food has been punished.
  • If you hit the snooze button too many times and miss your train, and in the future you don’t hit the snooze button, the behaviour of hitting the snooze button has been punished.
  • If a learner is rude to a teacher, they may get a detention, if the learner is less likely to be rude to the teacher again, then the detention was a punisher.


Parents would likely reprimand a child if they misbehave, and so would teachers for that matter, to the end that they want them to ‘behave’ more acceptably, learn more effectively, and be kept safe, so they are well equipped for life in the world. So why isn’t it acceptable to shape children with autism’s behaviour? We should have high expectations for our learners.


51pm2vhyXSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The first time I used a punishment procedure was with a young learner during a toilet training protocol (I’ll do another post down the line on the toilet training procedure by Azrin and Foxx). Basically, the child receives positive reinforcement for ‘good toileting practices’, and positive practice (a type of overcorrection – a punishment procedure where you get the learner to do the desired behaviour several times) when there is an accident. I remember feeling sceptical initially. Naturally, I asked questions, and read in to the research. Using reinforcement and punishment was such an effective way to toilet train, and being toilet trained is such a valuable life skill. If faced with the option of a couple of negative experiences or being toilet trained, what would you choose? Sitting around in wet/soiled pants is not dignified, so I know what I’d rather.



There are 2 types of punishment, positive (the addition of something – verbal reprimand) or negative (the removal of something – response cost). I have been trained to use reinforcement over punishment if possible, but sometimes, punishment may be necessary to decrease challenging/inappropriate behaviour. These could be strategies such as;

  • response cost (removal of something good, e.g. confiscating a learner’s iPad for a short period, or losing playtime)
  • time out [which is commonly misused] (is the withdrawal of the opportunity to earn reinforcement e.g. sitting outside of the ball pit, away from the fun)
  • verbal reprimands
  • over correction (doing the correct behaviour several times)

There are of course more punishment procedures.


It’s important to remember that something is only a punisher if the target behaviour decreases, so you shouldn’t be using the same consequence over and over with no change, as it’s actually ineffective. If a child becomes upset when you deliver a consequence, but it doesn’t decrease the target behaviour, then it’s not working as a punisher.



If using punishment, we should always be reinforcing a desired alternative behaviour. For example, if there was a punishment procedure used for a learner hitting other children during playtime, then we should also be reinforcing playing appropriately with peers. This way we can say things such as ‘play with ……’ rather than ‘stop ….’; give the learner something to do rather than something to don’t.


One last thing to consider is the delivery of punishment. I’ve seen teachers send children to the headmaster, and the head will give a verbal reprimand, which it turns out the learner loves, thought it was hilarious, so it’s likely the problem behaviour was actually reinforced! Remember, it’s not about how you mean the consequence to be taken, it’s about the effect on the future likelihood of the behaviour, how it’s received by the learner.


I hope this has clarified a subject that is sometimes tiptoed around, and hopefully you will convince others to not jump to conclusions, because in reality, behaviour analysts will only use punishment procedures after careful thought and planning, and always for the benefit of reducing an undesirable behaviour.