IFFC, which stands for Intraverbal Function, Feature, & Class, is an Intraverbal program.
Intraverbals are some of the most difficult programs to write and to teach, and are typically reserved for the ABLLS-R advanced learners. An early learner or a nonverbal child wouldn’t be ready for the complexity of an intraverbal program.
"Intraverbal" is a VB term, and it refers to questions or statements that require a verbal response and have no stimuli --such as flashcards--present. An example of an intraverbal is responding “29” when someone asks “How old are you”? It’s very common that children in ABA programs start showing disruptive behaviors when intraverbal programs begin such as elopement, aggression, or noncompliance. The difficulty of the task is what’s causing the disruptive behaviors.
Intraverbals can be difficult to teach because they are difficult to learn. Much of ABA early learner skills require rote memorization. As a child progresses through ABA and moves being from an early, to intermediate, to advanced learner, the skill difficulty increases and the goal moves away from rote memorization to recall of information.
Intraverbals are the building blocks of language. If you pay attention to the language of most 3-5 year olds, it’s predominantly intraverbals: requesting information, describing things, talking about favorite objects or TV shows, etc. If a child with Autism does not have a strong intraverbal vocabulary they will be at a huge disadvantage when communicating with peers. Most young children immediately start conversations with intraverbals. Its interesting that as therapists we tend to teach our clients to greet others by saying “Hello”, yet most young children greet each other with questions, such as “What’s your name”. Intraverbal knowledge also leads to more extended social interactions. If a child with Autism can only answer simple “Yes” or “No” questions then their mean length of responses will be pretty short:
Therapist: “Are you hungry?”
Therapist: “Do you want to swing?”
I have successfully held 5-10 minute conversations with clients by just asking them about different IFFC mastered goals. It’s very easy to turn “Tell me something about a car” into a full conversation. First the child tells me about a car, then we talk about the color of my car, we point to cars in magazines, write the word car, draw pictures of cars, all while talking about what a car does and does not have. Intraverbals help an Autistic mind to make connections between things that are similar or dissimilar, which leads to the ability to jump topics in conversation and elaborate on topics…just like typically developing children do.
Intraverbals can be quite complex and are often taught incorrectly. If you are an ABA therapist, you may need special training to learn how to teach intraverbals. If intraverbals are taught in the wrong order or without teaching prerequisite skills first, then it’s very confusing to the learner. A great resource for understanding intraverbals better is the "Verbal Behavior Approach" by Mary Barbera. It’s an easy to understand book that breaks down all of the VB teaching operants.
I typically write IFFC programs for clients who have already mastered some intraverbal programs, can easily mand and tact items, have a good amount of spontaneous language, and have mastered the necessary prerequisite skills.
So what exactly does the IFFC program teach?
Function- understanding what things are used for, such as the function of a towel is to dry off.
Feature- understanding adjectives or how to describe something, such as a car has wheels.
Class - understanding categorization, such as both watermelon and pasta are in the class of food.
The IFFC program ties all 3 of these skills together, so the child must know how to receptively and expressively identify features, functions, and classes of items before you can begin teaching IFFC. Those prerequisites are necessary. IFFC can be taught receptively (RFFC) or expressively, just depending on what is easier for the child. The goal of the program is that the child will be able to describe an item/object to you, after you name the object. The SD would be “Tell me something about a ___”. The child should respond by stating a feature, function, and class of the item you named. Here is what a successful teaching trial would look like:
Therapist: “Tell me something about a car”.
Child: “A car has 4 wheels, you drive it, and it’s a vehicle”.
Here are a few of the most common questions therapists ask me about IFFC programs:
- “The child states the feature and function, but not the class”- Try using a verbal prompt, such as “What else” or “Tell me the class”. Be sure not to provide reinforcement until the child has correctly named all 3. If you reinforce after the child has said the feature and function, then over time they will think they don’t need to state the class.
- “The child just repeats my SD and doesn’t say anything else”- First make sure the child has the prerequisites needed to learn this program. Be sure you aren’t asking the child to do far more than they are capable of. If they do have the prerequisites then use visual prompts. If your SD is “Tell me about a house” then have a photo of a house ready to be used as a prompt.
- “The child gets very upset when we do intraverbal programs or tries to leave the table”- This isn’t unusual, and it happens a lot. Intraverbals are hard. Magnify the reinforcement you use for intraverbal programs: use a bigger reinforcer or give the child more of it. Make sure you are prompting the child if they take more than 3 seconds to respond to you.
- “The child does well with this program at the table but away from the table they don’t seem like they get it”- They probably don’t. Generalization must be incorporated into an ABA program…it doesn’t magically happen. Let’s say you are teaching the child to describe a cat in an IFFC program. Take the child to a pet store, or flip through a picture book together and when you see a cat stop and say “Look! It’s a cat. Tell me something about a cat”.
- “The child will master an IFFC goal, but when we move on to the next goal they are still giving the responses for the old one”- Sometimes therapists push forward through this problem, and just expect that the child will take several weeks to learn each new IFFC target. It’s important not to just push through this error. It isn’t normal that for each new IFFC goal the child struggles, and continues to give you the wrong answer. What this is revealing is difficulty with discrimination. The child hears you say “Tell me something about a ____”, and they just toss out the last response they gave that was reinforced. If you see this happening, learning is not going on. Rote responding is going on.
Don’t be intimidated by teaching intraverbals! Some intraverbal programs can be very simple, such as Animal Sounds. IFFC is a bit more difficult to teach and understand, but the payoff is huge when you see how much easier it is for the child to socially interact and engage in meaningful conversation. If you have a Consultant or BCBA leading your ABA program I highly suggest you request additional training on how to teach intraverbals and how to correct common student errors. Even if you don’t have a regular Consultant, you can hire one part time or as needed to help you teach this difficult skill.
**Quick Tip: Many parents have a tendency to try and teach intraverbal responses to a child who is extremely unprepared for the task. Instead of the child making varied and appropriate responses they are taught 1 or 2 rote responses, which do little to help the child socially. I’ll give you an example: Teaching a child to respond “Fine” when Mom or Dad asks “How was school today?” Was school really fine today? Or is that just what the child has been taught to say? If the child got sick at school and threw up their lunch, will they still say their day was “Fine”? If so, that is completely missing the point of the question. When I ask parents why they taught their child to say “Fine”, they usually tell me they wanted the child to be able to have a social interaction about their day. Well, if that is your goal then write an intraverbal program where the child is taught to describe their day, who they played with, what they had for lunch, etc. Don’t settle for a robotic, rote response of “Fine” when what you really want is an actual conversation.