Fact sheet on manding (learning to ask for things) a communication issue with Autism,  the most common pervasive developmental disorder


There are many hurdles faced by children on the autism spectrum, as they learn communication skills. An early stumbling block can be learning to ask for things (manding). It is a major key to establishing interactions with others, and for a child to have a sense of control and power over their environment.

A first step would typically be saying the name of an object as the child reaches for it ie. "doll". The doll would be held by the parent or therapist for a moment to see if the child will say "doll" as well. If not, the child be allowed to have the desired object anyway. Another strategy would be to pick up the doll, say "let's play with the doll" and see if the child responds. A third strategy would be to put a favorite toy just out of reach without your help. When the child attempts to get the toy, you can offer the child a choice "do you want the doll or the clock?", pointing out each and waiting for a response.


This process should follow the guidelines of Applied Behavior Analysis. We are breaking the skill of verbally requesting things down into the smallest units for easy learning. At first, the child reaching for an object is the first step. The next may be saying "doll", possibly followed by "want doll" and so forth.


Never require a response that you can’t prompt- don't say “Say doll” while holding the doll if the child does not consistently imitate. This is because we can’t physically “make” the child say the word. We don't want the child to practice not following instructions. Remember prompts can be verbal, visual or physically guiding the child's hands to an object. The overall goal is for a child to eventually not need prompts. This is why the least intrusive prompts are used, so the child does not become overly dependent on them when learning a new behavior or skill. Prompts are gradually faded out as the new behavior is learned.


Children with autism can still learn to make requests even if they cannot master words yet. Assistive technology such as communication boards can still be used for a child to make requests using symbols, with verbal requests hopefully following at a later point.


Positive reinforcement should be used to reward appropriate responses from the child. This may simply be gaining access to the requested toy, or a special treat if the child had made a big step in their ability to ask for things.


Click to shut this Autism fact sheet on manding in communication

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A child with Autism can become very frustrated by the inability to communicate desires or problems. Teaching a child to mand, or ask for things, is the first major step in communication development.