Teaching Adolescent Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders to Respond to and Generate Disguised Mands

Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)


School Psychology

First Advisor

Steege, Mark W.

Second Advisor

Beardsley, Erin M

Third Advisor

Pratt, Jamie L


Psychology; Health and environmental sciences; Education; Disguised mands; Mands; Multiple exemplar; Prompt delay; Verbal behavior


A mand is a verbal operant that specifies its reinforcer (Skinner, 1957). For example, a child might say “milk please!” when thirsty. A disguised mand, however, can be defined as “responses that are under the control of an establishing operation (e.g., deprivation from cookies) and a discriminative stimulus (e.g., the presence of a listener) but the response does not specify the reinforcing consequence (e.g., access to cookies)” (Najdowski, Bergstrom, Tarbox, & Clair, 2017 p.734). For example, a person might say “I love sweets!” in hopes that the listener offers a cookie. Oftentimes, a person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may fail to interpret the “true meaning” of the disguised mand and respond more literally. For example, if a person said “I see you are eating cookies”, a person diagnosed with an ASD might respond with “Yes, I am eating cookies.” The purpose of this dissertation is to describe a doctoral research study designed to teach adolescent participants who have been diagnosed with an ASD to respond to and produce disguised mands. Many people who have been diagnosed with ASD have difficulty with identifying the perspective of others, which potentially leads to difficulties with social interactions. In many verbal communities, a direct mand may be seen as rude, and be put on an extinction or punishment schedule, whereas disguised mands may be reinforced (Najdowski, et al 2017). This dissertation included two separate, but related, experiments. In experiment one, participants were taught to respond to disguised mands, in a replication of the study published by Najdowski, et al. (2017) in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis . In experiment two, the same participants were taught a specific set of disguised mands and situations in which to use them. Data were collected on the participants’ ability to respond to and produce disguised mands, both individually and in group scenarios. In both experiments, all three participants showed immediate and significant improvements after the training phase was implemented, thereby demonstrating an ability to both respond to and produce disguised mands after being taught a simple rule about them.