What is the Verbal Behavior Approach in Comparison to ABA?

I didn’t create the Verbal Behavior Approach, I followed other professionals in the field, namely, Mark Sundberg, Dr. Jack Michael, Dr. Vincent Carbone and many others who’ve influenced my ideas about ABA and the Verbal Behavior Approach. So today I’m talking about the differences between a traditional ABA approach like the Lovaas Approach versus the Verbal Behavior Approach to ABA.

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The addition of the Verbal Behavior Approach is not a different approach, it’s an addition, an extension of Dr. Lovaas’ research. It was kind of a parallel, almost pre-dated if we think about Dr. Michael and his graduate students doing the work in the Verbal Behavior world in the 1970s. The Verbal Behavior Approach didn’t just happen in the last few years. This has been extensively studied as a parallel but very complementary and very much of an extension of Lovaas’ work.

I think I had the great advantage of working with both methodologies, with the Lovaas strict replication site ABA and then moving to a Verbal Behavior ABA approach. In the beginning, it was rough. Going from something that systematized, that together, that formalized to kind of winging it and now I think with my book and the work of the Verbal Behavior Project and the extensive research in the Analysis of Verbal Behavior Journal and other journals extending all the research, I think we’re in a much better place to be providing more systematized delivery.

One common question I used to get is, “Which is better, ABA or Verbal Behavior?” That’s like saying “Which is better, soda or Sprite? Or which is better, religion or Catholicism? You see religion or soda are the umbrella terms and then underneath it are the types of soda. So I consider the Verbal Behavior Approach as a type of ABA but a really necessary part of ABA, just like you would add the precision teaching ABA procedure. I use precision teaching all the time too, so it doesn’t have to be a competition, we just want to make sure our ABA procedures are as good as possible, are resulting in increasing language and learning skills, and decreasing problem behaviors. Being stuck with old protocols, not individualized enough, is not going to help kids reach their fullest potential.

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My goal for every client, or even for my typical son or any typical kids out there, is that they each be as safe as possible, as independent as possible, and as happy as possible. I think we can do that by implementing Verbal Behavior Procedures and collaborating, training, and working with parents to make home, school, community, everything merge so that children are making gains in all areas and are reaching their fullest potential in all areas. I don’t see that when people stick to a certain methodology, at school only, that’s pretty secretive about what you’re doing and how it’s working. So I think the Verbal Behavior Approach being commercially available, and now the VB MAPP being commercially available, has done a real service to helping kids because its gotten procedures and techniques available to parents who are a huge stakeholder in this and are usually the biggest advocates.

Overall, there are key differences between a Lovaas ABA Approach and a Verbal Behavior Approach. With the Verbal Behavior Approach, we focus right away on expressive language and we do it based on the verbal operants, with an assessment, careful programming. There’s a heavy focus on pairing and manding and wanting kids to want to be with us, to want to run to the table, not to get away from us. We use errorless teaching, not a no, no prompt procedure, which used to be used. I’m not sure if that’s still what the Lovaas Institute uses but we use an errorless teaching approach so there is less stress because there are less errors. We use individualized Verbal Behavior Assessments so for each assessment we take a look at strengths and needs and we really analyze language to the fullest extent possible.

Usually, with a VB Approach we also use cold probe data instead of trial by trial data so there’s usually a lot less data collection and more time for teaching. Those are some of the key differences and I wholeheartedly agree that we need more research on the use of the Verbal Behavior Approach. I would encourage researchers who might be listening to collaborate with both practitioners and parents who are reporting good transformations because like myself and other practitioners we may not have the time and the resources to do controlled research. We need to build a village to help get the research done so that everyone’s ABA treatment can be as good as possible.

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