Verbal Behavior Therapy

Verbal Behavior Therapy (VB) focuses on teaching verbal behavior through a collection of highly effective teaching procedures taken from the science of behavior analysis, incorporating BF Skinner’s behavioral analysis of language. In his 1957 book, Verbal Behavior, Skinner described language as a behavior and showed how language could be taught using the principles of operant conditioning.


Skinner’s work in this area was largely ignored until Dr. Jack Michael and his students, Mark Sundberg and James Partington, began to apply it many years later.

It was written by In 1998, Drs. Mark Sundberg and James Partington wrote and published a book entitled, Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS). This book is an assessment, curriculum guide, and skills-tracking system for children with autism or other developmental disabilities. VB practitioners utilize the ABLLS to assess a child’s level in 25 different areas of functioning. A parent and/or a teacher who is very familiar with the child can complete this assessment. The ABLLS can be completed every 3 to 6 months after the initial assessment and because of its frequency serves as an excellent tracking system of the child’s progress. Drs. Sundberg and Partington also wrote and published Teaching Language to Children with Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, which provides an overview of the VB terminology and techniques.

The Verbal Behavior model of ABA looks first at what the child wants and then teaches the child how to request (ie how to mand). Initially that may involve only the child reaching for the item to indicate interest. The child quickly learns that if they use “verbal behavior,” or reaching in this case, to indicate interest in something, they get the requested item.


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