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Understanding Speech Therapy & ABA Terms

Therapist and little boy having fun together playing with letters and chalk

Speech therapy and ABA often work hand-in-hand to address communication difficulties in children. These services have the potential to improve several areas of a child’s development.

Speech therapy aims to improve a child’s communication skills, and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) can increase a child’s positive behaviors and reduce interfering behaviors. Many children, such as those with autism, receive both of these therapies.

According to research, parents can help improve a child’s outcomes while receiving these interventions by participating in their child’s therapy. When parents are actively involved in the process, they’re able to learn the goals, strategies, and therapeutic techniques that can be used to help the child continue to practice and make gains at home.

However, treatment notes and discussions with the therapists can be loaded with unfamiliar terminology like antecedent, manding, prompting, shaping, and praising. Within the fields of speech therapy and ABA, distinct terminology is used.

We’ll help bridge the gap here by providing a clear understanding of the commonly used terms in speech therapy and ABA, and a look at the difference between some seemingly similar terms.

“Manding” vs. “Requesting”

The terms “manding “ and “requesting” both involve communication but differ in their specific meaning and how they are applied in ABA and speech therapy.

Manding: In ABA, this refers to a child asking for a desired object or activity. Depending on the child’s language skills, mands can be verbal (saying a word) or nonverbal (such as through gestures or pictures). Developing manding skills through prompting and reinforcement is a common goal in ABA.

Example: The child says “ball” or points to a ball to ask for it.

Requesting: In speech therapy, “requesting” refers to several different forms of communication that a child may use to ask for something, and can include direct requests as well as indirect requests within social situations This could be by saying a word or using nonverbal communication such as pictures, signs, gestures, or an AAC (Augmentative Alternative Communication) device.

Example: A child says “help” to request assistance (direct request) or “I like blue” to indirectly ask for a blue shirt when given a choice.

The Difference

The goal of teaching “manding” in ABA is often to replace a negative or undesired behavior with a functional means for a child to ask for something. It is often targeted through behavioral interventions. “Requesting” in speech therapy can include a broader range of communicative acts and is elicited through speech and language interventions.


In both ABA and speech therapy, “Shaping” refers to a specific action becoming progressively closer to the targeted goal. The goal itself differs between the interventions.

In ABA: Shaping is used to gradually teach and refine behaviors. Successive approximations of the target behavior are reinforced.

Example: ABA is working on a child’s ability to play with a variety of toys in the way they’re intended. If the goal is for the child to learn to stack blocks, the behavior analyst may break that down into smaller, achievable steps. For example, encouraging the child to start by picking up a block, then reinforcing any attempts to bring them towards a stack, and eventually the child stacks them.

In speech therapy: In speech therapy, shaping often refers to gradually improving the accuracy that specific speech sounds are articulated by the child. The term is also used to refer to techniques used to help a child gradually develop a specific communication skill.

Example: Fluency shaping strategies (such as speaking at a slow rate) aim to help those who stutter to speak more fluently. Or, to teach a child to say consonant blends like the “sp” sounds in “spill”, the speech therapist may start by working on the child’s production of the “s” sound, then gradually blending it with the “p” sound.

The Difference

"Shaping" in ABA is geared towards developing behaviors, and in speech therapy is used to develop an improved use and accuracy of speech and language skills.


Reinforcement is used in speech therapy and ABA to encourage the child to complete a certain act. However, it is applied in different ways and can target a different set of goals across the two disciplines.

In ABA: Reinforcement can be positive (providing something desired) or negative (removing something undesired). It refers to a consequence that increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again in the future.

Example: A child may be given praise, high fives, or access to a preferred item or favorite activity when he or she shows a desired behavior. This can encourage him or her to continue showing that behavior in the future.

In speech therapy: The speech therapist uses various forms of reinforcement such as verbal praise, tangible rewards, and natural consequences (like being able to successfully communicate a message). This is provided during play, games, or communication tasks to encourage and motivate the child to engage in the activity and practice certain speech and language skills.

Example: The speech therapist may clap for a child every time he or she names pictures in a book to encourage the child to continue saying new vocabulary words.

The Difference

In ABA, reinforcement is a key component of modifying a child’s behaviors to teach desired behaviors and reduce undesired ones. Reinforcement in speech therapy is used both to encourage the child to participate in therapeutic activities and to reinforce communication skills.

More Vocabulary to Know

Here are some other commonly used terms in speech therapy and ABA that can be helpful to parents in understanding these interventions.


Antecedent: Something that occurs before a behavior which may trigger that behavior.

Consequence: What happens after a behavior. The consequence can be positive, reinforcing the behavior to happen again, or negative, reducing the likelihood of the behavior occurring again.

Baseline: An initial measurement of behaviors before any intervention occurs. Baseline data is used as a reference to measure progress over time.

Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA): An evidence-based process of gathering and analyzing information to help identify why a child may be performing certain behaviors.

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP): A formal, written improvement plan created based on the results of the FBA, which specifies recommended actions for improving or replacing certain behaviors.

Natural Environment Teaching (NET): A personalized teaching method that involves teaching skills in a child’s natural environment (such as in their home) and following the child’s lead.

Speech therapy

Prompt/Cue: A strategy used to help a child perform the desired speech or language skill. For example, to lead a child into answering a “why” question, he or she can be prompted with the starter phrase “because…”. Cues like touching the mouth or reminding the child to move their mouth a certain way can help them say a specific speech sound the correct way.

Accuracy: How well the child uses a certain communication skill. This is often a percentage (ex: the accuracy he or she produces a sound).

Modeling: A strategy used in speech therapy that involves the therapist or caregiver demonstrating a correct speech or language skill for a child.

Generalization: The ability to use a skill learned in one context (such as a speech therapy session, with the therapist) to different situations (like at home with family or on the playground with peers). A goal in speech therapy is to generalize a child’s speech and language skills across contexts.

Additional Resources

Speech therapy and ABA are two effective interventions that many children with communication difficulties receive. Understanding the distinct terms used in speech therapy and ABA can help empower parents to remain active participants in the therapy process and help accelerate their child’s progress through home carryover.

TherapyWorks offers ABA and Speech Therapy, in addition to Occupational and Physical Therapy both in person (in Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio) and through teletherapy (nationwide). If you would like to learn more, or discuss your child’s specific needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to TherapyWorks!


Cihon, J. H. (2022). Shaping: A Brief History, Research Overview, and Recommendations. Handbook of Applied Behavior Analysis Interventions for Autism: Integrating Research into Practice, 403-415. DOI:

Leafe N, Pagnamenta E, Taggart L, et alWhat works, how and in which contexts when supporting parents to implement intensive speech and language therapy at home for children with speech sound disorder? A protocol for a realist reviewBMJ Open 2024;14:e074272. doi:

Freeburn, J. (2022). Speech therapy: being understood clearly. In Functional Movement disorder: an Interdisciplinary case-based approach (pp. 341-352). Cham: Springer International Publishing. DOI:

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