Verbal Behavior is the behavioral analysis of language. B. F. Skinner’s functional analysis of language provides a framework for further assessment and treatment of language based upon the function the word or action serves in the learner’s environment rather than its form. Skinner proposed that “meaning” of language is acquired due to the environmental events that change when the word or action occurs rather than an innate ability to “understand” the word itself. In keeping with this definition verbal behavior may include vocal words, sign language, exchanging a picture to receive an item (PECs), written language, gestures, etc. Skinner provided us with units of analysis referred to as verbal operants. By applying behavior analytic principles and procedures using verbal operants as a unit of measure, we are able to assess and treat language systematically and individually for each learner. (Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal Behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.)
Due to the broad range of deficits observed in learners with ASD, language delays and/or errors in “auditory processing,” assessment and treatment using Skinner’s verbal operants is of particular importance.