Manding for Information – Teaching WH Requests

Manding for information is an important skill. I ask questions all day.

Manding for information refers to the process in which information becomes a conditioned reinforcer as it leads to an already established reinforcer. So basically, ask a question, and use the information to do/get something useful.

featured-content-ipad-icon_2xHere’s an example;

Learner: ‘where’s the iPad?’ (this is the ultimate reinforcer)

Adult/peer: ‘in the kitchen’ (the useful information leading to the ultimate reinforcer)

Learner goes to the kitchen to get the iPad

Here’s some practical tips on how you can teach this skill. When you start out, you need to identify some strong reinforcers; these can be used as the items/activities that motivate/reinforce the learner to ask the ‘wh’ questions. The reason you should start out with highly motivating items is because nobody asks a question if they don’t care about the answer (for example, I am very unlikely to ask ‘where’s the cauliflower’ and much more likely to ask ‘where’s the chocolate’).

You should teach at least 2 WH questions at the same time to help with discrimination hex_pat(so the learner doesn’t just ask ‘what’ questions all of the time).

It doesn’t always have to be a really creative process when teaching this skill, there are plenty of everyday situations in which you ask different ‘wh’ questions (it can be really creative as well if you want).

Remember it’s the information which is valuable, if you’re learner says ‘where’s the iPad?’ don’t just deliver the iPad, tell them the location, then they have to use the information to go and get it. The information is the reinforcer.

Manding for information lesson plans are a good way to prompt you when to use different ‘wh’ questions. It is good to not do 20 what questions in a row, and then 20 where questions, mix it up a bit, intersperse the WH questions. Lesson plans are also a good way to plan out;

1) the contrived situation

2) what information becomes reinforcing

3) what the ultimate reinforcer is

It breaks down the process that the learner goes through. It’s also good to teach during naturally occurring situations throughout the day even if you haven’t planned to do so (so when in a shop, the learner might spontaneously request a magazine, but they don’t know where it is, prompt ‘where is the magazine?’).

Generalise the way you can ask WH questions, for example, ‘what is it?’, ‘what are you watching?’, ‘what are you doing?’, ‘where’s the IPad?’, ‘where are we going?’ etc. This will encourage the learner to emit novel responses, which is the ultimate goal. Don’t just teach ‘where is it?’ and ‘what is it?’.


Manding for info data sheet (adapted from Carbone Clinic data Sheet)

Now, I’d never say no to data, it’s always a good 
way to track if what you’re doing is effective
. You can even just tally prompted versus spontaneous use of the targeted WH uestions

As always, differentially reinforce responses (give more social praise/reinforcement for more spontaneous responses).

So if you want to work on this in a spare 15 minute period, firstly give some thought to what the ultimate reinforcer will be (what is the learner getting out of it), think about which WH questions you are targeting (might be 2 for intensity, or more than 2, depends on the learner), and get ready to create situations for the learner to ask. When you have identified that the learner has motivation for the information, the teaching procedure would be as follows,

  • Contrive situation (adult says – ‘lets play with the iPad’)
  • Prompt response (adult models what to say -‘where is the iPad?’ and waits for the learner to repeat it back (this is an echoic prompt))
  • Fade your prompt (independent response if possible ‘where’s the iPad?’)
  • Give the information and differentially reinforce (dependent on how independent the learner’s responses were)

If manding for information is totally new to your learner, it may be worth running a few trials using steps 1, 2, and 4 (contrive, prompt, give information), and you can fade your prompts over each trial, again, it depends on the learner.

The awesome Busy Analytical Bee has also just posted about this – you should check it out for some good ideas how to teach each WH mand –

So there you have it, a brief snippet on how to teach a real important part of your learners’ mand repertoire.

Go on, Get Stuck in – 12 Messy Play ideas

Messy play is a right good laugh.

It can serve many functions, whether it be a good pairing activity, a reinforcer, a good manding session, desensitising learners to textures, encouraging them to eat, and even incorporating goals through NET. It can all be done, and I for one, thoroughly enjoy getting a bit messy. 

Pinterest is awesome for checking out some good ideas. I’ve got a cheeky little ABA board you can check out here for some ideas, amongst other things. 

More often than not, you’ll have things that are lurking in the back of your cupboard that can be used. My favourite activity is so simple, and consists of 2 ingredients; 1 cup cornflour and half cup soap (or shower gel, shampoo etc). Mix them together, and boom, you’ve some lovely putty/dough style substance, which smells lovely!


Here are other some ideas;

  • Oats
  • Water and cornflour
  • Rice
  • Pasta (cooked or uncooked, and you can use gluten free) 
  • Crazy Soap
  • Paint
  • Sand
  • Water play
  • Jelly
  • Ice
  • Foil
  • Water beads


Combining a bunch of these can go to next level sorts of fun.

Before I finish up, here’s a couple of ideas on how you can teach some different goals within messy play. 

  • Mands – teach hands for all resources you use, and actions for them (e.g. water, soap, pour)
  • Tact – labelling different items and actions within the activity (e.g. water, soap, pouring)
  • Imitation – imitate actions within messy play (e.g. imitate sprinkling rice, pouring water, sliding ice)
  • Visual – match different items within messy play (e.g. match red cup to red cup)
  • Listener Responding – ask the learners to carry out actions/find objects within messy play (e.g. can you splash? Pour the water, find the cup)
  • Independent play – increase duration of independent play activities 
  • Intraverbal – whilst playing, saying and filling in different actions (e.g. you splash the ….water)

You can do all of this, whilst having a really good time. So go on, get stuck in.

Manding – A Very Important Target!

This is a juicy one.

Once you’re paired with your learner, you should begin manding. A mand is a request for a desired item/activity/action/information. The word ‘mand’ is derived from ‘demand or command’. This skill area is very important as it allows learners to access their environment and communicate their needs. The more functional requests a learner has, the less likely other, undesirable behaviours will serve the mand function (e.g. crying, whining, hitting etc. in order to get something).

The first thing you should do is to contrive (build) motivation. You should never prompt a mand when there is no motivation (don’t require your learner to say/sign for something unless you’re sure they want it). Some learners will make this obvious; reaching for an item, pointing to something, but others will make you work for it; maybe a subtle look at the item, or simply tolerate it being around.

Sometimes it may take time to build motivation, and you may need to try a variety of items/activities before the learner has motivation to mand. This is fine, be sure to not rush, motivation is really important when teaching a mand repertoire. If the learner isn’t motivated, try and up your game!

Make sure you ‘cleanse the environment’, in other words, don’t have the learners’ favourite things freely available elsewhere, otherwise why do they need to come to you? Keep reinforcers under your control.

Little and often. The smaller/less duration you deliver a reinforcer, the more likely you are to keep motivation high, and get more teaching trials. Say you’re teaching a mand for ‘biscuit’. Break that bad boy in to tiny pieces. One biscuit can go a long way. If each time your learner says biscuit you give them a whole one, you’ll go through loads, and they’ll probably get full pretty quick! 15 trials from one biscuit is better than 1 trial for one biscuit. You must also consider the learner losing motivation if you are too tight-fisted with reinforcement.

Another good habit to take on is to pair (associate) the item with the vocal/sign you require the learner to do. For example, when playing with a ball, repeatedly saying ‘ball’ when you do it; this will increase the likelihood of requesting spontaneously.

Be sure to use differential reinforcement throughou manding. The more spontaneously and independently the learner is manding, deliver more of the reinforcer, and less for weaker responses. Think of it like performance related pay!

The immediacy of the reinforcer is important, the quicker the reinforcer is delivered, the more likely it was because of the behaviour that preceded it (e.g. the vocal/sign), which we want to encourage. Also, the longer you take to deliver the item, the more likely a less desirable behaviour may occur. Deliver the item sharpish.

It’s important to errorlessly teach – don’t let the learner error when manding (leaving it too long before prompting, or manding incorrectly). Prompt as much as needed to respond correctly. It’s important to remember, use the most effective, but least intrusive prompt. Prompt him enough to respond correctly, but don’t over prompt, it’s a very fine line. Over time, prompts can be faded.

Intersperse mands. Don’t teach one at a time. For early learners, work on 5-10 initially. As a general rule, don’t do more than 3-5 of the same mand in a row, mix it up.

This final point gets a mixed review. Don’t choose generalised mands (vague mands, ‘more’, ‘again’, ‘please’). This probably goes against what most people out of the field will advise you to do. But think of it like this….you’re playing with the learner, surrounded by toys – cars, trains, planes, balls – having a good old play. You’re doing loads of cool stuff, having a lovely time, and the learner says ‘more’ or ‘again’. You do what you think the learner wants (1 of the many things you have been doing), but you don’t do what the learner wanted, so they engage in problem behaviour. Bad times. This can all been avoided if we teach specific mands from the off, such as ‘car’, ‘train’, ‘plane’, ‘ball’, notmore’.

I’ve been trained to mostly take trial by trial mand data, recording individual mands as they occur, recording prompt levels, and vocal approximations (if needed) which is definitely needed for those learners who have a developing mand repertoire, especially if you’re trying to shape vocals. Data for this is pretty intense, but it’s necessary. Data is our friend, and ensures we are making the correct decisions for that learner.  

So, get some potential reinforcers together, decide on the mands you want to teach, have fun, and get stuck in!