Verbal behavior in applied behavior analysis

Verbal Behavior In Applied Behavior Analysis

Verbal behavior in applied behavior analysis

What is verbal behavior?

Verbal behavior in applied behavior analysis is based on communication and language. It falls within the principles of applied behavior analysis and the behavioral theories of the scientist B.F. Skinner.

Verbal behavior prompts individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder to learn language through the use of words or symbols that have meaning. Through words, individuals can learn how to obtain desired things.

Verbal behavior does not focus on words as nouns only, such as (cat, car, Etc….) Rather, it focuses on how words are used to request and communicate ideas to other individuals.

Language has been classified into 4 different types of basic verbal operations:

the demand

It is requesting something, such as “cookies” to request cookies.


The individual names objects in the environment to share or comment on something. Such as when a child sees an airplane and refers to it as “airplane.”

Verbal behavior governed by other verbal behavior (dialogue)

It is the individual speaker’s response differently to the verbal behavior of others.

For example, an individual responds with “the fifth school” when asked, “What is the name of your school?”

The encounter

It occurs when a speaker repeats another speaker’s verbal behavior such as words or letters. As imitation is important to help the individual learn.

How to teach verbal behavior to individuals with autism spectrum disorder

Verbal behavior teaches commands (requests), considering requesting one of the basic skills of language.

Example, A child with autism spectrum disorder may learn that when he says “cookie,” the child may receive a cookie. Once the child requests, the specialist will repeat the word, then present the requested item, and then the word will be used again by the specialist in the same context to reinforce the meaning for the child.

In the beginning, the child does not have to pronounce the actual word to receive the requested item, but rather simply needs to request by any means such as, Pointing to the desired thing, and from here the child will learn that obtaining the reinforcer is the result of the request he made. The specialist will then help the child access the actual word.

In the individual session, the specialist increases the chances of success and reduces the child’s frustration when he combines easy and difficult requests, but the specialist must change the situations and instructions in ways that attract the child in the individual session.

Error-free learning

Verbal behavior typically involves error-free learning and means prompt and repeated provision of help and prompting to ensure the child is given the correct answer every time. Over time, the help and instruction fade away until the child no longer needs to provide the correct answer every time. Example:

  • The specialist presents cookies in front of the child and says “cookies” to encourage the child to respond
  • The specialist holds the cookies and says “K” and here he instructs the child and encourages him to respond
  • The specialist holds the cookies in front of the child and waits for his request without any prior indication from the specialist

The ultimate goal is for the child to say “cookies” when he wants cookies without any help or prompting.

Verbal behavior program in the field of applied behavior analysis

A verbal behavior program is included in the treatment plan for at least one to three hours per week. Depending on the child’s treatment plan, the hours may become more than 3 hours. Therefore, specialists must train parents and caregivers on how to apply verbal behavior in the child’s daily environment.

Who are the individuals who can benefit from a verbal behavior program?

  • Verbal behavior can help typically developing children learn language
  • Children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disorders
  • Children and adults with language delay or disorder
  • Children and adults who use visual aids

Who provides the verbal behavior program?

  • Psychologist
  • Certified Behavior Analyst or Certified Behavior Technician
  • Special education teacher
  • Speech and language specialist

Does insurance cover the cost of the verbal behavior program?

sometimes, There is a great need to meet the cost of services provided to individuals with autism spectrum disorder. In many cases, insurance provides coverage for a verbal behavior program when used as part of applied behavior analysis services or speech and language therapy programs, but this depends on the type of insurance you have or the area in which you live.

What is the evidence of the effectiveness of the verbal behavior program?

A 2006 review of 60 published studies demonstrated the effectiveness of a verbal behavior program in helping individuals with autism spectrum disorder develop spoken language. The review noted a lack of evidence on whether the program has any further evidence of improving daily living skills for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

a summary

Verbal behavior was introduced in 1957 by Skinner B.F. to describe his functional analysis of language.

In the 1970s, behavior analysts Vincent Carbone, Mark Sundberg, and James Partington began developing Skinner’s program of verbal behavior.


Verbal Behavior Therapy | Autism Speaks