An Overview of Applied Verbal Behavior (AVB)
Applied Verbal Behavior (AVB, occasionally called VBA) is an approach to therapy which utilizes the science of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)[a] to shape and strengthen a client’s verbal behavior based on the theoretical framework laid by eminent behaviorist BF Skinner[b]. It is important to note that the methods and fundamentals of AVB are an application of ABA – the distinction lies within the behaviors targeted1. The emphasis of AVB therapy is on functional language as opposed to the structural (grammar) language trained in many other approaches to therapy. It is also important to note that from a behavior-analytic perspective, “verbal behavior” does not only include vocalizations and speech. Rather, it refers more generally to behavior for which reinforcement2 is delivered by another person in the social environment. Thus, sign language and other modalities of communication that do not involve vocalizations are considered verbal behavior and can be influenced via principles of operant conditioning3 (based on antecedent conditions, behavior, and consequences) in the same manner as verbal behavior which is spoken.
1: It is very important to point out that within any approach there is considerable variability from one practitioner to the next. There is no standardized ABA or AVB method applied without variation across providers. Theoretical and practical differences arise based on the therapist and/or supervisor’s training and familiarity with the relevant literature. When you hear terms like ABA, Discrete Trials, ITT, Lovaas Therapy, AVB, and the like, keep in mind that they are all based on Behavior Analysis and are not radically different. Rather, they are different methods of applying the same science to therapy. Thus, I would generally recommend that you be more concerned with the training and competence of your therapist than which major application they support. Haphazard application of any of these approaches will fail compared to competent application of another.
2: A process in which a behavior is strengthened (i.e., the behavior's frequency, rate, duration, intensity) as a function of an event that occurs as a consequence of, or contingent on, the response.
3: A simple definition is an increase or decrease in behavior as a function of the consequences that follow responses.
4. An event which follows the occurrence of a behavior and increases the future probability of the occurrence of that behavior. Note that merely wanting or liking something does not make it a reinforcer. The child must actually work for it, and it must strengthen the response it follows to truly function as a reinforcer.
Revised by: Jill Greising-Murschel
a. Baer, D. M., Wolf, M.M., & Risley, T. R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91-97
b. Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal Behavior. Acton, Massachusetts: Copley Publishing Group.
c. Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1975). Incidental teaching of language in the preschool. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 8, 411-420.
d. Handelman, J. S. (1979). Generalization of autistic-type children of verbal responses across settings. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 12, 273-282.
e. Nuzzolo-Gomez, R., & Greer, R. D. (2004). Emergence of untaught mands or tacts of novel adjective-object pairs as a function of instructional history. The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, 20, 63-76.
The following links were chosen to help parents learn more about ABA therapy and the resources available to them: