A Verbal Behaviour (VB) home program is a term used for a specially designed curiculum that helps develop language and related skills using the principles that govern behaviour and learning, also known as Applied Behaviour Analysis. Assessment, training and target sheet updates are done by the Behaviour Analyst.
The Verbal Behaviour Program, was developed by Mark Sundberg (2008) and is is based on B.F. Skinner’s (1957) analysis of verbal behaviour; developmental milestones; and field tested data from typically developing children, children with autism, and children with other developmental disabilities. Over the course of several years, speech pathologists, behaviour analysts, psychologists, special education teachers, occupational therapists and parents of children with special needs have had additional input. It is designed to provide a representative sample of the child’s existing verbal and related skills. It has 170 measureable milestones (that are broken down into smaller measurable steps for the purpose of teaching) that are balanced across 16 skill areas and three developmental levels. The three developmental levels are:
level 1 (0-18 months)
level 2 (18-30 months)
level 3 (30-48 months)
Verbal Behaviour Program
The skill areas are assessed at the start of the program to give baseline data, an idea of what their comparative score is in the beginning. The skill areas are worked on daily and updated weekly.
The mand is a type of language whereby a speaker asks for (or states, demands or implies) what he needs or wants. Mands are the first type of communication acquired by a child (Bjiou & Baer, 1965; Novak, 1996). This is therefore one of the first skill areas to be worked on and at the same time builds up the motivation of the child and gives the therapist an idea of what they find reinforcing, which is crucial to the rest of the program.
The tact is the type of language whereby the speaker names things, actions, attributes, etc in the immediate physical environment. The tact repertoire is so significant to language development that it is often treated as the only element that needs direct training. However, there is a substantial body of research that show that mand and intraverbal responses (see below for definition) may not emerge from tact only training in early intervention for children with language delays (Sautter & LeBlanc, 2006).
The intraverbal is a type of language whereby the speaker verbally responds to the words of others- talking about things and activities that are not present. Intraverbal prepares a speaker to respond rapidly and accurately with respect to words and sentences, and plays an important role in continuing a conversation.
The echoic is a type of language whereby a speaker repeats the words of another speaker. The echoic repertoire is very important for teaching language to children with language delays, and it serves a critical role in the process of teaching more complex verbal skills (Lovaas, 1977, 2003). The Early Echoic Skills Assessment (EESA) is utilised by the Verbal Behaviour Program as a subtest. It was developed by Barabara E. Esch, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, BCBA. The EESA is a guideline for the progression of speech sounds, blends, words and phrases acquired by typically developing children.
Motor imitation, copying the movements of others, can have the same verbal properties as verbal behaviour. It is critical for teaching sign language to children who can hear but are not vocal (Sundberg, 1980). A child’s ability to imitate the motor actions of others also plays an important role in the acquisition of other behaviours such as self help skills, attending, classroom routines, the development of play and social behaviour, and other types of group activities such as arts, crafts and music.
There are many different behaviours that fall under the rubric of listener skills. In addition to paying attention to when a person is speaking, there is ‘understanding’ of what a speaker says. This can be assessed using both verbal and non verbal measures.
Visual Perceptual skills and matching to sample (VP-MTS)
Many intelligence tests contain sections on various visual discrimination tasks such as part to whole puzzles, block designs, patterns, sequences, and matching to sample. A number of skills are related directly or indirectly to visual discrimination skills.
Independent play involves spontaneously engaging in behaviour that is automatically reinforcing (Vaughan & Michael, 1982)- it is pleasurable to the child and does not require outside reinforcers to maintain it. Independent play shapes a number of important skills (e.g. hand eye co-ordination; production of cause and effect; visual discriminations) and allows the child to have productive free time. In addition, the development of appropriate play skills are important for teaching a child to stay on task, and provide a basis for social behaviour, which often involves joint play skills. Giving a child an arsenal of play skills may make him more valuable to peers and bring him more positive attention.
Social behaviour and social play
A significant component of the diagnosis of autism involves deficits in social development. Much of ‘social behaviour’ involves language, such as mands for information from others, tacts of current stimuli in the environment, intraverbal responding to a peers questions, and listening to peers talk. ‘Social play’ involves interaction with others (adults and peers).
Spontaneous Vocal Behaviour
Vocal play and vocal babbling are extremely important for language development. Babbling strengthens then vocal muscles, making it possible for a child to control those muscles and emit specific sounds that eventually develop into words
Textual behaviour (Skinner, 1957) is the actual skill of being able to identify what a word says, but not necessarily reading with ‘understanding’ what is being read. The VB-MAPP focuses on pre-reading and beginning reading skills that are seen in typically developing three to four year old children.
Other skill areas include:-
Transcription (Spelling) and Copying text
Listener Responding by feature, function and class
Classroom routines and group skills
Bjiou, S.W., & Baer, D.M.,(1965) Child Development II: Universal stage of infancy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall
Gutstein,S.E. & Sheely, R.K., (2002) Relationship development Intervention with Young Children: Socail and Emotional Development Activities for Asperger Syndrome, Autism, PDD and NLD. Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Leaf , R.,& McEachin, J., (1999) A Work in Progress. Behaviour management strategies and Curriculum for Intensive Behaviour Treatment of Autism. DRL Books.
Novak, G. (1996) Developmental Psychology: Dynamical systems and behaviour analysis. Reno, NV: Context Press.
Sautter, R. A. & LeBlanc,L. A.,( 2006) Empirical Applications of Skinners Analysis of Verbal Behaviour with humans. The Analysis of Verbal Behaviour, 22, 35-48.
Skinner,B. F., (1957) Verbal Behaviour. New York. Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Sundberg,M.L.,(2008) VB-MAPP.AVB Press.
Vaughan, M.E. & Michael,J.L. (1982) Automatic reinforcement: An important but ignored concept.Behaviourism, 10, 217-227.