Effects of Speaker Immersion on Independent Speaker Behavior of Preschool Children with Verbal Delays

Article excerpt


Speaker immersion is a tactic that uses multiple establishing operations to increase speaker behavior for individuals with limited mand and tact repertoires. The purpose of this paper was to evaluate the effects of speaker immersion on the number of independent mands, tacts, and autoclitics emitted by young children with verbal delays. In the first experiment, two children who emitted autoclitic mands in instructional settings, but not in non-instructional settings, participated in 60-minute speaker immersion sessions for three days. Results showed that speaker immersion was effective in increasing the number of independently emitted autoclitic mands in a non-instructional setting for both participants. In the second experiment, two children with independent mands, tacts, and autoclitics in instructional settings, but not in non-instructional settings, received daily, 10-minute speaker immersion sessions. Results showed that speaker immersion also resulted in increased mands, tacts, and autoclitics for these participants. Outcomes are discussed in terms of establishing operations and the utility of speaker immersion as an instructional tactic.

Keywords: Establishing Operation, Mand, Tact, Speaker Immersion


In verbal behavior, speaker behavior consists of six basic verbal operants or functions defined by their effect on a listener, including echoics, mands, tacts, intraverbals, textual responses, and autoclitics. Mands are verbal operants controlled by conditions of deprivation or aversive stimulus control and reinforced by the item specified in the mand (i.e., saying "Cookie" is reinforced by receiving a cookie). Tacts are verbal operants controlled by the presence of environmental stimuli and maintained by generalized reinforcement (i.e., saying "Bird" is reinforced by affirmation from a listener). Autoclitics are verbal operants that further modify the mand or tact operant (i.e., "I want the chocolate cookie" or "That's a blue bird)"

Independent or "spontaneous" speaker behavior consists of verbal operants such as mands or tacts that are emitted under non-verbal antecedent control, and possibly used in ways not previously reinforced. This unprompted speaker behavior further implies the presence of a generalized reinforcer, such as a response from a listener. Acquisition of independent speaker behavior is significant because some research indicates that it is one component of language development that distinguishes children with delayed verbal repertoires from children with typically-developing verbal repertoires. For instance, Hart and Risley (1995) found that after minimal verbal instruction, typically-developing children not only used more independent speech than their peers with verbal delays, but also applied acquired vocabulary to untrained or novel stimuli and spoke about more topics. In contrast, children with verbal delays tend to use less independent speaker behavior than their typically-developing peers (Hart & Risley, 1995), and may not use trained speaker behavior for untaught stimuli or verbal functions unless direct teaching is provided (Greer, 2002; Nuzzolo-Gomez & Greer, 2004; Twyman, 1996). Thus, a frequent goal of language training programs is to teach children to emit speaker behavior beyond the training setting, or to emit it "independently."

To facilitate independent speaker behavior, verbal behavior training programs incorporate establishing operations (EO), which are contrived or naturally-occurring motivational conditions created by manipulating events or stimuli in a child's environment such that they change the reinforcing effectiveness of other variables and the frequency of responses associated with those variables (Michael, 1988). For example, deprivation involves reducing a child's access to a desired item, which consequently may increase the reinforcing effectiveness of the item and the frequency of responses associated with obtaining it. …


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