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The Benefits Of Skinner’s Analysis Of Verbal Behavior For Children With Autism

Mark L. Sundberg, Jack Michael

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Behavior analysis has already contributed substantially to the treatment of children with autism, and further gains can result from more use of Skinners analysis of language in Verbal Behavior (1957) and in the resulting conceptual and experimental work. The approach emphasizes a unit of analysis consisting of the relations between behavior, motivative and discriminative variables, and consequences. Skinner identifies seven types of verbal operants—echoic, mand, tact, intraverbal, textual, transcriptive, and copying a text—which function as components of more advanced forms of language. This approach focuses on the development of each verbal operant (rather than onwords and their meanings) and on the independent training of speaker and listener repertoires. Five more specific contributions are described that relate to the importance of (a) an effective language assessment, (b) mand training in early intervention, (c) establishing operations, (d) an intraverbal repertoire, and (e) automatic reinforcement.