Looking at Listener Response

Verbal behavior in neurotypical children develop fairly naturally as they approach school age. In fact, from the day you bring them home as babies to the day they begin grade school, they have already indeed developed quite a repertoire of their own. Language skills or verbal behavior includes asking for things they want (manding), labelling things in the environment (tacting), responding to a speaker within a conversation (intraverbal) among many others.


Children on the autism spectrum however, due to their social communication limitations, have difficulty developing these language skills. A very important language skill for the autism diagnosed child to develop is listener response, as he or she cannot be placed in a classroom environment and be successful without this vital skill.


So what is listener response? Listener response is the behavior in which students perform the action which was instructed to them. For example the teacher says “put away pencils”, the students put away pencils. The teacher says “take out your ruler”, the students take out their ruler.



Listener Response takes place in a variety of environments: school, home, workplaces, recreational activities, sporting activities, economic environments etc.


Listener response can also be seen during sessions with speech therapists, occupational therapists, behavior therapists and others whenever a child acts upon the commands of the adult present.


We even see listener response everywhere. We see it being acted out within the context of black history and society.



Take Barack Obama for instance, during his presidency, we imagine he would give many orders. For example, telling people to vote for him and then in turn, when those people voted, we can classify that as listener response. Other examples of such acts can be seen with speeches when leaders like Nelson Mandela, Marcus Garvey and Paul Bogle telling their followers to vote them into power, whether it's over a nation, trade union or civil organization. This is listener response at play in its most powerful form.


Once a special needs child has mastered listener response, teachers can build upon that skill to each other skills such as manding, tacting or any other they feel is best for that particular child.


As special needs children continue to develop, the applied behavior analyst working with them may recommend other language skills training such as using Augmentative and Alternative Communication or the Picture Exchange System. Behaviorists tend to aim at teaching several skills within one intervention plan to ensure a child is rounded and as competent as possible.


For typical children, continued language learning may take the route of the traditional educational system and that is ok. The aim is to meet each child where they are and help them adapt if they are falling short of any essential educational or life skills.

For the up and coming ABA student, a great place to read about listener response as well as other classic verbal operants is in B.F. Skinners writings, especially his book titled Verbal Behavior.


We hope you enjoyed our article.


Take care until next time!

Email info@sensorytc.org for any questions or resources!

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