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ABA Therapy

What Is Manding For Children With Autism?

Manding Definition

Mands are verbal indications of a want or a need that a child learns to communicate early on in their life. While mands are a stepping stone toward clear social interaction, the underlying motivation for a child’s request is what truly gives manding meaning. The context of a child’s mand is an important factor in understanding the child’s needs.

In addition to expressing encouragement for an action or item, manding can be used to discourage or prevent a scenario that a child does not want to continue. For instance, a child could say “milk” if they want a drink, or they might say “all done” if they wish to stop someone from tickling them. Without manding, a child is more likely to become frustrated and display maladaptive behavior to express a need or desire, as they are not equipped with the linguistic skills they need to communicate effectively.

Motivating Operations

Motivating operations are the child’s ambitions that determine their actions. In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, uncovering a child’s motivating operation is key to understanding the associated mand. When a child mands for an item or action, reinforcing their behavior with a desirable reward signals to the child that the behavior is positive and worthwhile. Though the motivating operations of a neurodivergent individual may be different to those of a neurotypical child, they are crucial to understand for successful ABA therapy and reinforcing desirable behaviors.


Anything that indicates to a child that their behavior is productive can be a reinforcer if it increases the chance the child will repeat the behavior. If a child has a favorite toy, giving them access to that toy can become positive reinforcement after they behave in a desired way. Reinforcers will change from child to child, depending on their personalities and interests.

Establishing Vs. Abolishing Operations

An establishing operation is an act that enhances a reinforcer. When a child receives access to their favorite toy after a day without it, the act of giving the child that toy becomes an establishing operation that increases the reinforcement for a desired behavior.

Abolishing operations have the opposite effect as establishing operations. An action that once was an establishing operation can become an abolishing operation if it is overused. If a child is given the same toy repeatedly as a reinforcer for positive behaviors, the toy can eventually lose its appeal. As a result, the child may be less likely to behave in a way that typically preceded access to the toy.

Tact Vs. Mand

Manding and tacting go hand in hand when it comes to a child’s social development. Where manding takes place when a child expresses their needs or wants, tacting occurs when a child uses a label or name for a specific item or action. A tact and a mand can be identical words, but their nature is determined by their context. A child might mand “snack” to let an adult know they are hungry and would like something to eat. However, if the child is asked to identify a small portion of crackers, and they respond “snack,” the word becomes a tact in that particular situation.

Benefits of Makaton for Mand Training

Manding is an invaluable skill for children with autism, but for nonverbal individuals, the learning process becomes more difficult. As a result, additional methods can be employed for mand training with nonverbal children.

Therapists may use Makaton, an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) form, to assist in educating children diagnosed with autism. Makaton’s base vocabulary borrows signs from British Sign Language combined with pictographic symbols and words.

Children diagnosed with autism can benefit from Makaton by:

  • Gaining the ability to share thoughts

  • Receiving extra contextual information for spoken communication

  • Learning foundational vocabulary that promotes verbal interaction

ABA Manding Activities

As the education process is different for every child, it’s important to have personalized manding goals. ABA therapists may begin mand training first with items that the child can see before moving on to more abstract mands, such as requests for specific actions or items that are out of view. To begin manding activities with a child, prepare a selection of rewards based on the child’s preferences. These serve as the reinforcers for positive behavior.

At first, a child might only mand by saying or signing “give.” Once they successfully communicate a desire, the child can begin learning to tact the desired item. For more advanced manding, a child can then begin learning to address an adult before issuing the mand.

Mand Training Benefits

Autism generally leads to deficits in social and communication abilities. Mand training aims to make improvements in these areas, eventually leading to more effective communication while also decreasing maladaptive behaviors. When children with autism learn to mand and develop ways to convey their needs or wants, they may not feel like they need to engage in tantrums or melt-down behavior.

Mand training empowers autistic children with meaningful communication skills. In addition to bolstering interpersonal skills when interacting with adults, manding can also extend to peers, giving children with autism a wider range of social abilities that are key for language development and growth.

Sources Cited:

Faiz, Z., et al. Manding in Children with Autism to Decrease Problem Behaviour

Wallace, Michele D., et al. Establishment of Mands Following Tact Training as a Function of Reinforcer Strength

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