Verbal Operants Highlight: Visual/Perceptual Skills

July 1, 2013

In Skinner’s 1957 book “Verbal Behavior,” he describes a functional analysis of verbal behavior, extending operant conditioning to account for verbal behavior. Skinner outlined a group of verbal operants, or functional units of language. A description of these operants can be found here. Here at Behavioral Consulting of Tampa Bay, we focus on teaching mands, tacts, intraverbals, echoics/imitation, as well as receptive/listener behavior (following directions) and perceptual/visual discrimination skills. This blog will focus on visual perceptual skills and how it functions in our everyday language. Earlier blogs have been focused on the mand (request), tact (label), echoic/imitation, and intraverbals.

Visual discrimination tasks, such as puzzles, block designs, patterns, sequences, and matching-to-sample, are tested in the Visual Perceptual Skills and Matching-to-Sample (VP-MTS) section of the VB-MAPP (Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Program Placement). Visual discrimination skills are directly or indirectly related to a number of skills, such as listener discriminations, observation, and discrimination. A child with a Verbal Behavior program will be assessed in this area to identify their strengths related to a variety of tasks, including matching-to-sample.

First, your child will be tested to see if they can attend to and respond to visual stimuli and match objects or pictures. This can be done by observing to see if the child visually tracks moving stimuli, visually attends to a book, stack blocks and puts items in a container, and match identical items.

Next, it will be tested to see if your child can match identical and non-identical objects and pictures. This can be assessed in different ways, such as sorting colors or shapes given models, matching identical and then non-identical pictures and objects to each other.

Last, complex designs, patterns, and sequences are tested. For example, can the child match an arts and crafts activity, complete puzzles and block designs, sort categories without a model (i.e. animals, clothing, etc.), and complete patterns?

Since these skills build on each other, these skills will be taught from the bottom up. Toys such as inset puzzles, blocks in different colors, picture books, etc. are great ways to help build these visual perceptual skills, especially during play time when the child is motivated to play with them. More advanced games such as memory/matching games and age-appropriate activity books (with mazes, dot-to-dot, and picture search) can also help children learn to match and discriminate between identical and non-identical pictures and objects. Check with your therapist to find what skill level your child is currently learning to help generalize these skills to the home setting.

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