A methodology for assessing the functions of emerging speech in children with developmental disabilities

Dorothea C. Lerman, Mandy Parten, Laura R. Addison, Christina M. Vorndran, Valerie M. Volkert, Tiffany Kodak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


An approach based on Skinner's (1957) theory of verbal behavior has been developed to understand and teach elementary communication skills to children with autism and developmental disabilities (Sundberg & Partington, 1998). However, few studies have directly examined the characteristics of emerging language in children with developmental disabilities. The purpose of this study was to develop and evaluate an assessment for identifying the elementary functions of vocal speech in children. Participants were 4 children with developmental disabilities, aged 6 years to 12 years, who exhibited at least one distinguishable vocal response (word or phrase) frequently in the natural environment. The assessment focused on three verbal operants delineated by Skinner (mand, tact, and intraverbal). One or more functions were identified for at least one vocal response of each child. Results suggested that this assessment would be useful for (a) evaluating Skinner's theory, (b) guiding decisions about language training for individual children, and (c) studying the nature of expressive language development in children with developmental disabilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303-316
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of applied behavior analysis
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism
  • Communication training
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Functional analysis
  • Language
  • Speech
  • Verbal behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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