A Guide to Verbal Operants in ABA Therap

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Verbal Operants are the fundamental building blocks of language that allow for an infinite number of grammatical and syntactical combinations in a sentence. Verbal operant therapy is an evidence-based approach to treatment which uses tasks requiring verbal operants with appropriate reinforcement to elicit desired behavior from clients, usually children on the autism spectrum.

Verbal operants are a type of behavior that is often used in ABA therapy. This article will cover the basics and provide examples of verbal operants.


The cornerstone of verbal behavior treatment is verbal operants. This treatment seeks to assist children comprehend why words are used and how they might be utilized to help them convey what they want by teaching language and communication skills.

The fields of ABA treatment , verbal behavior therapy and operants are quite complimentary. The major objective is to improve functional communication and language comprehension. Verbal operant interventions may be implemented into any ABA program.

Experts advise that ABA experts, educators, and caregivers educate across all operants in order to promote the optimal language acquisition and comprehension for pupils.

What Is Verbal Behavior Therapy and How Does It Work?

Verbal behavior therapy is a method of dealing with autistic persons. It teaches communication and language by assisting pupils in making connections between words and intended outcomes or objectives. It focuses on why words are used and how they might help students convey their thoughts, rather than only teaching words as labels for things.

Operants, or word kinds, are at the center of verbal behavior treatment. Each verbal operant serves a distinct purpose in the knowledge and effective use of language.

Verbal operants may be utilized in a variety of therapies aimed at enhancing communication and spoken language. Verbal operants, for example, may aid children in achieving their communicative objectives in ABA treatment.

The Importance of Verbal Operants

The ideas of ABA treatment and the behaviorist B.F. Skinner are the foundations of verbal behavior therapy. Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior, released in 1957, offered a functional study of language and discovered verbal operants. Verbal operants, according to Skinner, aid in evaluating the circumstances under which actions occur, not simply the conduct itself. As a result, verbal operants deal with:

  • The preceding circumstance.
  • The result of one’s actions.

ABA therapists may teach and reinforce the principles of language using antecedents, behaviors, and consequences, or ABCs.

Here’s a good example of ABC in action:

  • The pupil has expressed a need for some water.
  • The youngster responds with the word “water.”
  • As a result, the pupil receives water.

Skinner listed textual and transcribing as main verbal operants in addition to the aforementioned four verbal operants, albeit they are not employed as often in verbal behavior treatment today.

In ABA Therapy, How Are Verbal Operants Used?

Verbal operants may be used in an ABA treatment program to help a learner build effective communication skills. ABA therapists may use listener response and Imitation of Motors operants in their work with autistic kids in addition to mand, tact, Intraverbal, and echoic operants.

In an ABA program, a variety of ABC interventions may be employed. Different operants may be addressed depending on whatever skill the learner need.

ABA therapists evaluate their pupils’ ability to display good skills across all operants for effective language acquisition. It is insufficient for pupils to possess a large vocabulary. Students must be able to articulate their needs and desires in a range of situations using the terms they know.


One of the most fundamental linguistic skills that young toddlers learn is mand, or request. It may be deemed a mand if the antecedent was a reason for the result, or what the learner desired. Here’s an example of a mand exercise in ABC order:

  • The pupil desires a toy as an antecedent.
  • The pupil states “toy” as a behavior.
  • As a result, the pupil will get a toy.

The learner learns that choosing the proper term to describe what they want will obtain them what they need from other people after going through this process many times.


A tact is a name or label given to an item. Tact is the capacity to appropriately classify objects and events that you come into touch with in your environment. In other words, tact is a manner of sharing a personal experience. When a youngster sees a vehicle, for example, he or she will say “car.”

“What is it?” is a good approach to figure out what tact is being used in a circumstance. The student’s response to the question reveals what they are going through via their choice of words and language.


The intraverbal operant is a more complicated linguistic construct. People who are able to answer a question without a visual clue in front of them, such as an item they are looking at, are said to be able to do so. You may answer a query like “What is your name?” using intraverbal language abilities. or “What school do you attend?”

The following is an example of an intraverbal intervention:

  • “What animal has wings?” the therapist inquires.
  • “Bird” is the student’s response.

Simple fill-in-the-blank tasks, such as having the learner fill in missing words to their favorite book or song, may also be used as intraverbal therapies.


Echoic refers to a term that is repeated or echoed, according to Autism Speaks. It is a kind of imitation that aids in the confirmation of the student’s accurate language use. The therapist or instructor will say something that the pupil will have to repeat. The pupil practices utilizing words appropriately by repeating the right word.

The learner is asked to repeat what the speaker stated through echoic interventions. For example, the speaker may say “book” while pointing to a book. After that, the pupil says, “book.”

Listener’s Reaction

Listener’s Reaction means following directions, and it exhibits how much language a student understands. Rather than being an expressive language skill like the other operants, Listener’s Reaction is a receptive language skill.

Some children develop stronger receptive language than expressive, so it is important to develop this side of language as well. Listener’s Reaction interventions teach students how to follow basic instructions.

Here is an example of a Listener’s Reaction intervention:

  • The learner is prompted to touch an image of a dog as an antecedent.
  • The student’s behavior is that he or she touches the image.

Imitation of Motors

Imitation of Motors refers to the student’s ability to copy what another person is doing. Verbal instructions may be part of the intervention, though they do not need to be. For example, the therapist claps their hands; the child should then copy this action and also clap their hands.

The speaker may tell the student to copy them or do as they are doing, but they do not have to. When the Imitation of Motors operant is mastered, no instruction is needed.

ABA Therapy Providers

Behavior therapists, educators, and caregivers involved in a student’s ABA program may apply the concepts of verbal behavior therapy and verbal operants. Using verbal operants to assist your kids acquire a functional grasp and use of language is a good idea.

According to some experts, ABA providers should educate across all operants. Incorporating all operants throughout a curriculum, rather of concentrating on just one ability at a time, helps pupils retain language. Teaching across the operants is a good method to broaden language abilities, especially in more advanced language programs like those that concentrate on categories and function.


Verbal operants are the building blocks of language. They are the words, phrases and sentences that we use to communicate with one another. In order to understand how verbal operants work, it is important to be familiar with some basic terms. Reference: verbal operants chart.

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