What Are You Saying!? – How to Decode ‘ABA Speak’ in Regards to Verbal Behavior

Therapist with Child During ABA Therapy

As you enter the world of ABA therapy for your child with autism, you will likely encounter a strange language. ABA itself is an acronym for Applied Behavior Analysis. What this means for you as a parent is that we focus on increasing socially-desired behaviors and decreasing problematic behaviors.  We use data to analyze your child’s behavior levels and make changes based on that data to either increase or decrease the targeted behavior.

At the Applied Behavior Center for Autism, we pride ourselves on communicating with parents in ways that are easy to understand. Although we speak in user-friendly terms, it is important to understand the differences in language functions and how they impact your child’s therapy. Here are the most common ABA terms that you will hear, from time-to-time, in parent meetings or when looking at your child’s program:

  • Mand: a request that your child makes for what they want or need
    • Examples: Asking for a snack, asking to go to the bathroom, asking for information
  • Tact: labeling something
    • Examples: seeing snow fall and saying “snow!”, smelling popcorn and saying “I smell popcorn!”, being asked “What is it?” when shown a ball and then saying “ball”
  • Listener Responding: following directions or locating items
    • Examples: being told “stand up” and child stands up, hearing “touch the bird” and the child finds the picture of the bird, being told “find the one with laces” and the child selects the shoe
  • Intraverbal: talking about items that are not present, typically conversational language
    • Examples: answering “What’s your name?” or saying “moo” when asked “a cow says…”
  • Echoic: vocally repeating a sound, word, or phrase
    • Examples: saying “cookie” when told “say cookie,” repeating the alphabet song after hearing the alphabet song
  • Imitation: copying an action
    • Examples: drawing a cat because you see a peer draw a cat, clapping when told “do this” and shown clapping action

The function of language must be taken into account when programming for your child’s language acquisition. If you were to just hear “ball” without any other context, you would have a difficult time guessing the function of the word. Is someone asking for a ball, labeling a ball, answering a question (ex. “What do you throw?”), or echoing the word back (ex. “say ball” … “ball”)? This is why it’s important to get a general understanding of the function of language.

During parent meetings, your child’s Program Coordinator will teach you more about the function of language and how to use it yourself at home with your child. Reach out to your child’s Program Coordinator to learn more about the function of language and how you can use these differences to increase your child’s language.

Amy Oakes, M.A., BCBA
Branch Behavior Analyst, Greenwood

If your child isn’t currently a patient at the Applied Behavior Center for Autism and you’re interested in finding out more information, contact us today at 317-849-5437 or go to www.appliedbehaviorcenter.org/get-started/.