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What is Verbal Behavior Therapy?

December 28, 2023

Verbal Behavior Therapy is a communication theory that sees language as a learned behavior. It aims to acquire, develop, and sustain language skills by applying behavior strategies.

While it differs from traditional language theories, its goal is the same: to enhance effective and consistent communication in children facing challenges in acquiring these skills. But how do you use VB, and what does the typical therapy session look like? Let’s learn all about it.

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Autism Behavior Interventions

What is Verbal Behavior Therapy?

Verbal Behavior Therapy (VB) is a method that teaches communication using the principles of behavior modification and the theories of behaviorist B.F. Skinner. Verbal Behavior Therapy helps children focus on understanding the benefits of using language.

Skinner’s approach labeled the different language types as verbal operants, which are:

  • Mand: asking for reinforcement
  • Tact: naming items, actions, events, objects, etc. 
  • Intraverbial: answering questions and having conversations in which previous statements or words control the speaker’s words
  • Echoic: repeating what has been heard.

The secondary verbal behavior terms are:

  • Textual reach: reading written words
  • Transcription: writing and spelling words spoken to an individual.

How Does Verbal Behavior Therapy Work?

VB teaches children with ASD to make simple requests through:

  • language,
  • picture exchange, or
  • pointing to the desired object.

Imagine someone asking a parent or teacher about Josh’s language skills by saying: “Does Josh have (or know) the word ‘chips’?” Does he know what “chips” means? The answer to the question is more complex than it might seem.

With Skinner’s approach to language as behavior, you would want to get more information about the specific situations in which Josh shows that he knows what “chips” means. For example:

  • Asking for a chip when he wants one (a mand)
  • Telling someone else when he sees a chip (a tact)
  • Repeating “chips” when someone else says “chips” (anechoic)
  • Answering “chips” in response to a question (an intraverbal)
  • Pointing to a chip when someone asks him to (listener behavior)

Is Verbal Behavior Therapy a Part of ABA?

Verbal behavior therapy is highly supported in the field of ABA therapy. Both VB and ABA share the common goal of enhancing communication and language understanding. Interventions focused on verbal operants can be incorporated into an ABA program. 

Verbal operants are the core of VB, and many experts suggest incorporating interventions based on verbal operants into ABA programs for effective language acquisition.

Tacting in ABA is used to describe the skill of describing objects, actions, or events in the environment. In the context of VB, tacting plays a crucial role in enhancing language and communication skills, aligning with the shared goal of ABA.

How to Use Verbal Behavior Therapy

Verbal Behavior Therapy programs require at least one to three hours of therapy per week, but more intensive programs can include many more hours.

Therapists who provide and are trained to use verbal behavior strategies in their daily lives are:

  • Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA),
  • special education teachers, or
  • speech and language pathologists. 

Every child has unique skills, so each program is tailored to meet their specific needs. We use the Verbal Behavior Milestones and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) to guide the curriculum.

VB-MAPP involves:

  • daily data collection on taught skills,
  • tracking the number of skills mastered weekly,
  • regularly reviewing mastered targets to ensure skill retention.

What Does the VB Session Look Like?

In each session, the teacher or therapist tailors activities based on the child’s unique needs. They use a variety of questions, combining easy and more challenging ones to increase the chances of success.

For example, if the focus is on improving the child’s ability to ask for things (mand), the therapist might start with basic requests. If the child points to an object like a marker, the therapist responds by giving it to them, showing how communication leads to positive outcomes.

Over time, the therapist encourages more advanced communication, such as saying or signing the word “marker.” The goal is to help the child with autism understand that effective communication brings about positive results.

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Benefits of Verbal Behavior Therapy for Autism

Autism verbal behavior therapy offers many benefits. Some of them are:

  • Enhanced communication: Through VB, children on the spectrum develop the ability to effectively communicate their thoughts, needs, and feelings, which reduces frustration and enhances social interaction.
  • Improved social skills: As communication improves, so do social interactions. Children learn how to initiate conversations, engage, and respond appropriately.
  • Increased independence: The skills acquired through VB therapy empower children to become more self-reliant in daily activities and interactions.

The Core of Verbal Behavior Therapy

Verbal Behavior is a communication theory that initiates language and, like any other observable action, is a learned behavior that can be acquired, developed, and sustained by applying behavior strategies.

Behaviorist B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior Therapy (VB) method teaches communication using behavior modification principles. VB is not too concerned with the forms or structures of speech. Still, these are important in the linguistics analysis, and verbal operants are at the core of the therapy.

Remember, the path may have its challenges, but every effort to nurture language skills brings us closer to a world where your autistic loved one’s voice is heard and understood.


Q: How do you get Verbal Behavior therapy certification?

A: Verbal Behavior Therapy certification is typically obtained through recognized training programs specializing in ABA and verbal behavior interventions. These certifications validate a professional’s expertise in implementing effective communication strategies, particularly in the context of behavior analysis and VB.

Q: Who benefits from Verbal Behavior therapy?

A: Verbal Behavior Therapy benefits individuals with communication challenges, such as those with autism spectrum disorders, developmental delays, or language disorders. It is particularly effective for those struggling with acquiring language skills through traditional teaching methods.

Q: What is an example of verbal behavior?

A: An example of verbal behavior is when a child requests a toy by saying, “I want the ball.” In this context, verbal behavior involves using language to communicate a desire or request.

Q: Can nonverbal children benefit from verbal behavior therapy?

A: Absolutely. VB therapy tailors interventions to individual needs, which makes it suitable for both verbal and nonverbal children.


Skinner’s Elementary Verbal Relations: Some New Categories

Tutorial: Teaching verbal behavior to children with ASD

Defining Verbal Behavior: A Key Concept in Applied Behavior Analysis

The benefits of Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior for children with autism

The Application of Skinner’s Analysis of Verbal Behavior for Teaching Communication Skills to Persons with Developmental Disabilities

A study of the effects of the verbal behavior approach in teaching young children with autism

Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on Daily Living Skills in Children with High-Functioning Autism and Concurrent Anxiety Disorders

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