Dear Special Needs Parents, Pay attention to these numbers: 21 and 2,000

autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcement

I’d like to talk about two numbers: 21 and 2,000. We need to be very aware of them.

My son is a teen now, so I attend a lot of Transitioning Youth meetings. The last meeting I went to was incredibly depressing because there were parents there with adult children in their early 20s, who had no access to benefits. They all had 21 or 2,000 problems, or both.

The 21 problem

Age 21 is the age of diagnosis, and these families missed that deadline. For a variety of reasons, these adult children did not have thorough diagnosis paperwork from before the age of 21. It is incredibly difficult to get services for an adult child if a diagnosis was not made before age 21. It is crucial, vital, and absolutely necessary to get full documentation of all disabilities affecting a child before age 21. Make sure every diagnosis is included. Build a solid paperwork trail. Keep track of all the important documents throughout the years: diagnosis, evaluations, reports, IEPs, etc.

The 2,000 problem

Some of the adult children had assets worth more than $2,000. In some cases, the families had purchased a car or a condo for the adult child, and put the asset in the child’s name. This is a huge, horrible mistake. If an adult child has assets over $2,000 he or she is automatically ineligible for benefits; this is federal law. So, review your child’s financial assets. You may think your child has no assets, but watch out for the sneaky things:  Grandma buys a $100 Savings Bond every year for your child’s birthday, or Uncle Bert plans to leave $5,000 to your child in his will. These assets will make your child ineligible for disability benefits.

Get legal advice!

There are ways to build up assets for your child legally via a Special Needs Trust, and the ABLE Act is now becoming available in many states. Educate yourself, stay on top of your paperwork and your child’s financial situation. Remember 21 and 2,000. On the flip side, the parents at this meeting whose children had been diagnosed before age 21 and who monitored the $2,000 issue had full benefits for their children: Social Security, medical assistance, housing vouchers, vocational training, and so forth.

It is so important to get the benefits. If your adult child does achieve financial independence, his or her benefits will be reduced, but the child will retain ELIGIBILITY. So, if the adult child is laid off, the benefits can quickly be reinstated. It is a flexible system that responds to changes in the adult child’s situation.

One troubling development I’ve noticed is parents of younger children who report that schools try to dodge the autism diagnosis and go for something else. This is an incredibly painful situation for the parents. Insist that the full diagnosis be included in all the paperwork. It’s easier to fight this battle at age 4 than at age 21.

P.S. These rules apply in the U.S. Other countries have different rules.




The author, Martha Gabler, is the mother of a nonverbal teen son with severe autism. To help him, the family focused on scientific methods for working with a child with autism. Many parents know about ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis). In addition to ABA, Martha found out about a less well-known method based on ABA: Teaching with Acoustical Guidance (TAGteach). She realized instantly that this easy, inexpensive method for positive behavior change could be a huge help. This turned out to be the case. Her son is now a delightful, happy teen who loves life and loves going places.  He still has autism, but life is much better for the family. She tells her story on her website, Chaos to Calm.

Read More

TAGteach. Do you wonder how it actually works? What kids think of it? How instructors react to it? Here are 6 minutes of video that answer your questions.

TAGteach! What the heck is it

You’ve heard about the acoustical support, TAGteach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance). You may be wondering how it works in a real life teaching situation with real kids and real instructors. Here are three short videos, totaling 6 minutes, that show the “how” of TAGteach magic in action.

Video #1:   The Lesson: TAGteach Parkour: Lazy Vault — Coaching Past Fear (2.47 minutes)

In this video, a young woman is learning to do a vault. She is dispirited and fearful. Her coaches observe and end up developing the following series of tag points:


Read More

Got autism? Want to communicate with your child? Use TAGteach so you and your child can “talk” without words.

How to communicate

As autism parents, many of us find ourselves raising children with communication and language challenges. How do you communicate with a child whose use of language is atypical, or a child like mine who is profoundly nonverbal?

There are alternative communication approaches: picture symbols, sign language, communication devices. These are all excellent.

A new way to “talk”

There is yet another option for communicating with our kids. It is based on behavioral science. It is the TAGteach combination of observation, the acoustical support, and positive reinforcement.

(To learn about the basics of the TAGteach method, Teaching with Acoustical Guidance, please visit the Resources pages on this site:


Read More

Got autism? Want your child to exercise and have fun outside? Use TAGteach to increase gross motor skills.


This article focuses on gross motor skills, and how to use the always helpful and easy TAGteach method (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) to encourage your child to get out, move his body, and have fun outside.

Physical activity and exercise offer many benefits to children with autism, including improved muscle tone, improved social skills, and stronger attention skills. Exercise and outdoor activities are important for the health of adult individuals with autism. We can increase our children’s physical skills and their comfort in exploring new physical environments with the right tools and facts.

FACT 1: “Behavior” is “movement”

Here’s the rule about behavior:

Behavior is movement, physical movement of the body. (1)


Read More

TAGteach: What is a “tag point”?

TAG Point Criteria

Have you ever asked, “What’s the point?”

In TAGteach, we ask, “What’s the tag point?”

In TAGteach, the “tag point” is the absolute part of a behavior that, when performed, will receive the audible mark (tag). It is a specific physical movement that we want a learner to do.

For example, if a child is learning to climb up the stairs, we might set a tag point, “Foot On Step.” When teaching a child to write the letter V, the first tag point might be “Pencil on Top Line.” The tag point is the specific physical movement that will be tagged by an audible marker and that will result in reinforcement for the learner.

The child will hear the tag sound, know that he did the behavior correctly and will try to do it again correctly the next time.

autism, tagteach, ABA, positive reinforcementThe tag point is what we look for and reinforce

The tag point is the crucial component of TAGteach. TAGteach stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance. TAGteach is a teaching and communication method based on the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).


Read More

Martha Gabler BAM Radio Podcast

BAM radio logo


Martha was a recent guest on BAM Radio, talking to host Sharon Plante about TAGteach and helping kids with autism learn at their own pace.


Click to Listen

Read More

Got autism? Want to increase a child’s self-care skills? Use TAGteach to increase fine motor skills.


This article focuses on fine motor skills, and how to use the effective, scientific TAGteach method (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) to help your child build these skills.

If you are not familiar with the basics of the TAGteach method, please visit the Resources pages on this site:

Why work on fine motor skills?

Recent research has shown that an important factor for success for individuals with autism in adulthood is the level of self-care skills: individuals with higher levels of self-care have higher levels of employment and needed fewer supports. This fact alone is an important reason for focusing on these crucial skills. Self-care skills also make for a less stressful, more smoothly running and ultimately happier household. We can increase these vital skills with the right tools and through understanding certain facts.

FACT 1: “Behavior” is “movement”

Here’s the rule about behavior:

Behavior is movement, physical movement of the body. (1)


Read More

TAGteach: Task Analysis and Tag Points

Task Analysis hand washingTAGteach is an excellent method for teaching children, especially those with autism, because of the precise positive reinforcement of desired behaviors.

In addition to timely and effective reinforcement, it is also important to think about the details of a task, and how to set tag points. This post will address both of these issues.

Task Analysis

A task analysis describes the many small steps that go into performing a single activity. For example, we often tell children to “wash your hands” when they come home from school. It seems simple to us. For a child with autism, it can be a complex task. The child has to:

  • take off a coat
  • hang it up
  • walk to the bathroom
  • open the door
  • go to the sink
  • stand still
  • turn on the faucet
  • grasp a bar of soap (or hold one hand under the nozzle of a soap dispenser while pushing down on the pump with the other hand)
  • place hands under the water flow
  • rub the slippery soap over his hands
  • continue holding his hands under the water flow until the soap is rinsed off
  • turn off the faucet (with wet hands)
  • reach for and grasp a towel
  • rub the towel over his hands
  • replace the towel on the towel rod
  • walk out of the bathroom

This everyday task has at least sixteen steps involving the legs, torso, arms and hands! There could be many more steps if you were to break it down even further.


Read More

Okay, TAGteach. How do I get started?

Congratulations on your decision to use TAGteach to increase functional behaviors in your child with autism. Here are some suggestions for how to get started. Once you have tagged your child a few times, you will find it easy and natural to do.

We are frequently asked how much background and explanation is needed before getting started with tagging. The answer is: as little as possible. Just jump right in and start tagging! Your child will figure out very quickly that the tag is followed by a treat and that his actions are causing you to tag. This gives your child an unprecedented degree of control and he will be excited to play the game. If your child needs some explanation, just use as few words as possible to explain that the tag sounds means he did something right and he will get a treat after each tag.

1. Gather your materials: A tagger and reinforcers

autism, TAGteach, tagger, positive reinforcement, ABAA TAGteach tagger is a small plastic box clicker; available here. You can use any object that makes a quick, sharp click sound: a ballpoint pen, a flashlight, or if need be, a spoon to tap.

Reinforcers are any items that your child values. Get some treats that your child likes: very small pieces of candy, pretzel pieces, cereal pieces, tic-tacs, or anything similar. Put them into a small container that you can hold in your hand. A desired item can by anything: candies, treats, a chance to play with a toy, tokens for special treats or privileges, or money; social praise or recognition can sometimes serve as a reinforcer.

For more ideas about reinforcers, do a Google search on “reinforcers for autism”. The key point with a reinforcer is that it must be something the child likes and will work for. The easiest way to start is with food or drink – so unless this is impossible, we suggest that you use an edible treat for your first attempts at TAGteach.

2. Think about what you want

Each child with autism has a unique profile of skills, sensory issues and behaviors. Each family has a unique combination of people, responsibilities and resources. Take a few minutes to think about your priorities:

What issues are at the top of your mind right now?

What functional skills or behaviors would help your child with autism, and/or help your family situation?

Take a few moments to jot these down. Be sure to write these in positive terms so that they are statements of what you want your child to DO (as opposed to what you want to stop or prevent).


Read More

Positive Reinforcement Opens the Doors to Learning

white girl opening old doorWhen we hear about positive reinforcement most of us like it because we believe in being nice, positive and supportive.

In the field of Behavior Analysis, “positive reinforcement” is a technical and scientific term; it has a precise meaning that goes beyond general notions of being polite and encouraging.

What is Positive Reinforcement?

Here is the technical definition of positive reinforcement: “The offering of desirable effects or consequences for a behavior with the intention of increasing the chance of that behavior being repeated in the future.” (

Basically it means that an action followed by a positive consequence (reward, money, praise, social recognition), will increase, or, be performed more often.  So, positive reinforcement is a way to increase desired behaviors.  Positive reinforcement is not only a definition, it is a scientific law.  Years of research in experimental and applied Behavior Analysis have proven that positive reinforcement increases behavior.  See “What is ABA and Why is it so Important to Autism?


Read More