Mommy, Cookie Publix, Please!

Yesterday Barclay’s sister and I picked him up from his therapy school.  After he greeted us both with hugs, he said, “Mommy, cookie Publix, please!”  Four words!  Four words and a request!  In our world, this is huge!  Of course, my daughter and I took a detour on the way home to our local grocery store, Publix.  At the bakery, we were greeted by a smiling employee who let Barclay choose a sprinkle, sugar, or chocolate chip cookie.  As shown in the photo above, Barclay always picks a sprinkle!

Barclay is 3 1/2 years old and has Childhood Apraxia of Speech, ADHD, and ASD. He attends a full-time Applied Behavior Analysis (or ABA) therapy school 30 hours a week.  ABA is a scientifically proven intervention program for children on the spectrum. It focuses on using positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors.

One of Barclay’s goals in ABA is using three-word “mands.” A mand in ABA means a request.  In other words, we encourage Barclay to use three words to request something. For example, if he says “juice” we might prompt him to say “I want juice” by having him repeat after us or by saying just the “I” until he picks up on the rest of the phrase.  Daily, his therapists keep tally of his mands, both prompted (meaning they had to give him a verbal or non-verbal cue to get him to turn a one or two-word mand into a three-word mand) and unprompted, to monitor his progress.  The therapists set up scenarios with reinforcers (highly preferred items such as favorite snacks or toys), and then Barclay must use a three-word mand to receive the item or whatever he wants to do.

Mand training has been so helpful in him improving his communication skills. He is learning communication is valuable.  Many problem behaviors have been replaced with functional communication.  But most importantly, he is beginning to use three-four word mands on his own!

If you have a child on the spectrum who also has lagging communication skills, I encourage you to research ABA therapy and mand training.  I couldn’t be more pleased seeing the results for my son!  It’s been life-changing!

The consequences of an act affect the probability of it occurring again. – B.F. Skinner


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Amy Nielsen

Amy Nielsen is a former children's librarian of nearly twenty years. She now spends most of her time obsessively pounding on a keyboard. She is the author of It Takes a Village: How to Build a Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her upcoming YA Worth it debuts in May of 2024. She is also a freelance writer for The Autism Helper. When she's not writing, she and her family are most likely crusing the waters of Tampa Bay.