Teaching language to children with autism and other developmental delays is often started by teaching a child to mand for items they desire. The term, mand, was coined by B.F. Skinner, and a mand is a request. Manding is a good place to start language training because it is based on the child’s motivation to obtain something they want, such as a cookie, a drink, a toy truck or a movie put into the DVD player. A child does not have to be verbal to learn to mand, it can also be taught through sign language.

One of the best ways to teach your child to request is to put items he/she may desire out of their reach so that he/she has to ask for it. If you notice your child reaching for something, pointing at something or gabbing something it is probably something they want. Teach them the name of the item, either Language of desire through sign or through the verbal label. Moreover, once they know the label or sign do not let him/her gain access to the item without requesting.

Many parents put toys, craft items, games, DVDs and other desirable items in clear bins and/or up on high shelves. This allows your child to see items but requires them to ask for items through their method of language. If a child with language delays has free reign to get any toy he/she desires it can hamper their language development. You can even help expand their language by teaching your child attributes of items. For example, with LEGO’s, instead of just asking for “a LEGO” or “the LEGO’s” you can teach them to ask by color or size or the number of dots or number or pieces.

Another way parents can teach their children to mand in a natural environment is during snack and mealtime. For many children, food and/or drinks are rewarding and requiring your child to ask for what they want rather than just giving it to them helps them expand their language repertoire. Early learners may need to see the items in order to choose, whereas more advanced learners can hear the choices or can just ask for desirable items. Again, this requires the parents to put desirable items out of reach so the child has to use their language to get access rather than take what they want.

It is more work on your part to block or inhibit free access to desirable items but you will be surprised how much language your child can acquire with this type of intervention. Learning to mand will open up all sorts of avenues for your child. In order to build language skills, once a child learns to ask for an item in a particular way (with a word or a sign, an attribute plus the word/sign, a sentence, etc.), you do not want them to gain access to the item, unless they use that format or a more advanced format.