An autism mom’s mantra

 

guidelines for autism moms

TAGteach delivers the right “balance”

TAGteach has 4 protocols for giving children success (appropriate demands and high reinforcement) right away.

  1. Teaching always starts at the “point of success,” something the child can already do.
  2. Tasks are broken down into the smallest possible physical movements that the child can achieve.
  3. TAGteach delivers precise, split-second reinforcement at the moment the child performs the task
  4. Teaching stops before the child becomes fatigued.

TAGteach stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance. TAGteach is a teaching and communication method based on the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). autism help, tagteach, aba, positive reinforcement

How does TAGteach work?

TAGteach combines positive reinforcement with an event marker to tell a child that she has done something correctly. The event marker is a click sound made by a handheld device (the tagger). When the child performs the correct action, the parent/instructor immediately presses the button on the tagger and hands over a treat (candy, treat, token, praise, social recognition, or money) as a reinforcer. This results in the correct action occurring more often and for longer periods of time. TAGteach delivers the right balance of demand and reinforcement to children. With time and practice, children can learn many new skills with TAGteach, and learn them with joy. autism help, tagteach, ABA, applied behavior analysis, positive reinforcement

For more information, see the TAGteach International website. Join the free TAGteach listserve. TAGteach taggers are available here. Subscribe to the free Chaos to Calm newsletter: see link at upper right corner.  Ask a question (with no obligation) or see Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism.

TAGteach How-to: 3 resources you can use to change the “invisible” environment of a child with autism into a “growth” environment

autism help tagteach ABA

The word “environment,” has been a top subject in the news for decades. We know about natural environments like forests and rivers, and urban environments with streets and buildings. These are tangible, visible environments. But tangible objects are not the only features of an environment.

External factors

Included in every environment are external factors influencing the life and activities of plants, animals and people. These factors are elements that cannot be seen, and include things like knowledge, resources and skills. For a child with autism, the most important environment is this “invisible” environment.

What is the invisible environment of a child with autism?

This environment is made up of all the interactions and consequences that the child experiences each day. The impact of this environment on the future growth and development of the child is enormous. A supportive environment with access to knowledge, resources and skills can help both the child and the family learn important skills. A chaotic environment will help neither the child nor the parents, and may cause damage. Children with autism may display various challenging and dysfunctional behaviors.  Everyday life can be hard for them due to the communication deficits and sensory issues that are part of the autism condition. Teaching a child with autism is a challenging task that requires teams of specialists from multiple disciplines, yet most of us do not have access to such teams due to financial and bureaucratic obstacles. So how can parents help their children with autism and provide a supportive learning environment?

TAGteach provides 3 resources

TAGteach is a simple, easy and inexpensive way to add in these invisible factors so important for creating a scientifically-sound, supportive and positive learning environment. Knowledge of TAGteach gives the parents a remarkable resource for increasing functional skills in their children with autism.

1. Knowledge:  TAGteach and Positive Reinforcement

TAGteach stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance. TAGteach is a teaching and communication method based on the positive reinforcement principles of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis). The most important scientific law of ABA states that a behavior that is reinforced is a behavior that will occur again. By reinforcing appropriate, functional behaviors, parents can teach a child to perform these behaviors more often and for longer periods of time. TAGteach combines an acoustical signal (a “tag” or click) with positive reinforcement to increase functional behaviors. The acoustical signal or “tag” delivers precise, timely information to the child about what he or she has done that is correct. The “tag” means “success” to the child. With TAGteach, the desired behavior is broken down into small parts so the child can learn one small step at a time. Since TAGteach is easy for parents to learn and to do, the child experiences high levels of success and reinforcement. Consequently the child develops new skills with joy, and the entire family can go out and participate in life.

2. Resource: Parents’ Powerful Observational Skills

Oftentimes, parents’ detailed knowledge of their children is a neglected, unused resource. TAGteach taps into this amazing resource. By combining parents’ potent observational skills with the knowledge of how to mark and reinforce behaviors, parents learn how to increase their children’s functional skills. With the tagger, a small plastic device that makes a quick “click” sound, parents can “tag” and reinforce their children for any and all functional behaviors, no matter how fleeting those behaviors may be. Because of the laws of behavioral science, these behaviors that are reinforced are behaviors that will occur again. TAGteach makes it easy for parents or caregivers to add that supremely important external factor–positive reinforcement–into the invisible environment of a child with autism.

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Is this a candidate for the Lame Brain Parenting Hall of Fame?

autism, help, tagteach, ABA, applied behavior analysisI am the parent of a nonverbal teenage boy with autism, and I have a confession to make: I reward my child for BREATHING! You heard that right: I reward my child for breathing. Can you believe it? But, before you slap your forehead and moan that this idea is a top candidate for the Lame Brain Parenting Hall of Fame, please hear me out. There is a reason.

On the surface, the idea of rewarding a kid for breathing seems preposterous. But let’s look at how important breathing is. A newborn baby takes its first breath. A dying person takes his last breath. Living is breathing. We often describe emotions in terms of breathing: “panting,” “choking,” “gasping.” A sigh can be a sigh of relief, a sigh of grief, or a sigh of resignation. Descriptions of breathing tell us a great deal about the emotional state of the person. And what about all those people who pay for and attend meditation and yoga classes?  An important skill taught in many of those classes is how to practice breathing in order to achieve a calm state of mind and reduce stress.

Kids with Autism

Now, let’s look at our kids with autism. Our kids experience neurological and sensory feelings that we do not experience and that we can neither comprehend nor relate to. We know our kids experience sound, light, and movement in a different way, and that these sensory issues can create problems for them. We also know our kids with autism can be quickly overwhelmed by the combination of sensory issues and performance demands, with the result that they become angry and agitated.

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TAGteach How-To: How to Observe Your Child with Autism

autism help tagteach ABA

Parents of children on the autism spectrum by necessity become keen observers of their child’s behavior.  We are ever vigilant, watching for signs of an impending meltdown, or to appreciate those wonderful, elusive flashes of understanding or emotional connection. Our beautiful kids have shining moments of great behavior when they are happy and all is right in their confusing world. Wouldn’t you like to have more of those moments, and have those moments last longer?

Study what the child is already doing

An easy and effective way to get more of those shining moments is to start with something that the child is already doing (even if it is only fleetingly) and increase the strength of that behavior. By behavior, I mean a physical movement that the child is doing (as opposed to “good,” “bad” or other emotional descriptions of what is happening). If your child is shrieking and running around, he is not “driving you crazy,” he is demonstrating a behavior, i.e., the physical movements of moving his feet and moving his vocal chords.

Dr. Martin Kozloff, in his excellent book: Educating Children with Learning and Behavior Problems suggests that you take five minutes and observe your child, recording every movement of every body part. This will give you objective information of what actual physical movements your child is making. Once you have a catalog of the child’s movements, you can decide which ones could be the basis of new, “good” behaviors. We have created a download for you to use in recording your child’s movements that has additional instructions.

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You’ve tried so many things to help your child with autism. Are you ready to try TAGteach?

autism, tagteach, ABA, positive reinforcementIf you are an autism parent, you probably want to help your kid learn new skills.

If you want to help your kid learn new skills, you probably don’t know about using an acoustical support.

You probably don’t know that the acoustical support is a great way to help kids with autism learn, even the severe kids, the nonverbal kids and the super-sensory kids. And guess what else? It’s easy, effective and low-cost. Low cost? Now that’s rare in the autism world!

So what exactly is an acoustical support?

An acoustical support is a neutral sound: a tap, click or ping. The sound is communication. The sound tells a child that she has done something right–at the precise moment she does it! The sound tells her, “YES, you did it, and now you are getting a reward.” The sound gives her success. The sound makes her feel good. The sound makes her want to do that great thing again.

Here’s an example

Let’s say your child has just touched a toy. Many kids with autism don’t play with toys, so we want them to learn how. Now your child has just touched a toy. That’s great! That’s the first step. You have your handy-dandy TAGteach tagger ready, so Immediately you press it to “tag” her action of touching the toy. Immediately after that you hand over a reinforcer (something she really likes). Guess what? She’ll figure out very quickly that she got attention, success and a very nice treat from Mom when she touched the toy. And then guess what? She’ll try touching again. Maybe she’ll touch another toy, or touch the toy for a longer period of time. You’re on your way to expanding her play skills.

What’s the sound got to do with it?

The sound serves to “mark” the child’s action. The sound “marks” the action of touching the toy. The sound “marks” the action at the precise instant the child did it. Now the child know exactly what she did to earn the success and positive reinforcement. She knows! And she knows better and faster than she would if somebody spent a lot of time giving her a long-winded explanation. The sound works as a “conditioned reinforcer.” Internationally known behavior scientist Karen Pryor explains, “A conditioned reinforcer is some initially meaningless signal—a sound, a light, a motion—that is deliberately presented before or during the delivery of a reinforcer.” The use of a sound to signal success is called Teaching with Acoustical Guidance or TAGteach.

Conditioned reinforcer? Positive reinforcement? That sounds like ABA.

You’re right. It does sound like ABA: Applied Behavior Analysis. TAgteach is an ABA-based method. TAGteach uses the laws of positive reinforcement to build skills and increase learning. TAGteach adds in that little extra something, the sound, the acoustical support, which does such a beautiful job of clarifying information for a child with autism. With TAGteach you reinforce precisely. You reinforce quickly. You reinforce often. You can build behaviors faster. You can really take advantage of the fundamental scientific laws of positive reinforcement. Karen Pryor explains it this way, “Behavior that is already occurring, no matter how sporadically, can always be intensified with positive reinforcement.”

Watch your child learn to pay attention to the sound

After a few experiences of hearing the sound and receiving a treat (reinforcer), the sound itself becomes meaningful for the child, and she starts to watch out for it. After the child is paying attention to the sound, she starts to pay attention to the behaviors that produced the sound. When she realizes that her own behaviors are producing the sound and the reinforcer, she learns to produce those desired behaviors more often. At that point, you have learning and communication! You also have a child who is paying attention to her environment.  Isn’t this a wonderful outcome?  Learning and attentiveness — we all want those traits in our kids.

As a parent, when I started using a neutral sound (the “tag”) to indicate to my son which behaviors of his would earn treats, he started doing more of those behaviors. My son was loud, chaotic and wild in the early years. He had self-stimulatory and aggressive behaviors. With my conditioned reinforcer (sometimes referred to as an “event marker” or a “tagger”), I was able to tag my child every time he did something productive. These productive things were functional behaviors like Quiet Mouth, Appropriate Vocalization, Both Feet On The Floor, Hands Still, or Eye Contact. The procedure is: Observe child, press tagger when child performs the desired behavior, then reinforce child (give a treat or token).

Tantrum busting with the tagger

The first time I used a TAGteach acoustical support was when my son had just erupted into a tantrum, complete with shrieking, stomping and storming about. I tagged every split second of “Quiet Mouth” or “Both Feet On The Ground,” and handed him a tiny piece of candy with each tag. Twelve minutes later he was sitting quietly and calmly on the sofa, and we were able to go about our day. During those twelve minutes I said not a word and did nothing other than press the tagger and hand out tiny pieces of candy. It was easy to do, and the result was amazing. It was an incredibly empowering experience for me, compared to all the previous tantrums when I always felt panicky, demoralized and helpless. I never feared a tantrum or meltdown again because I had a powerful tool to help him calm down.

autism help tagteach ABAMy son became more skilled and happier the more I tagged

The more I communicated with my son via tags and positive reinforcement, the more skills he gained and the happier and better behaved he became. Despite the lack of speech, despite the sensory issues, the tag rang loud and clear and told him he had done something good. He loved it and responded beautifully. He had many difficult behaviors, but I was able to tag a split second of a functional behavior whenever it occurred, with the result that the split second became two seconds, then three seconds, then four seconds of the desired behavior, plus it occurred more often. Gradually I was able to “shape” disruptive behaviors into positive learning behaviors, and he gained many useful skills.

Clear, precise information for the child with no emotional or sensory burden

The reason the tag works so well is because of the precise information it provides to the child. It tells the child, in real time, exactly what he did that was right, at exactly the moment he did it. From the viewpoint of a child with autism, he receives precise, timely information from a neutral sound; there is no emotional burden, language processing or sensory issue to deal with. Thus the child is free to focus on the priceless information he is receiving: the wonderful knowledge that he has done something right.

NOW is the time for TAGteach for autism

The time has come for the use of acoustical supports in the autism community. There are many reasons. From an autism family’s perspective, this method is wonderful because it is easy, effective and low cost. From an autism treatment perspective, this method is wonderful because it is based on the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. It is flexible, portable and wonderful for teaching in the natural environment as well as in structured settings. It is an invaluable tool for weary, dispirited parents, and for over-burdened instructors in the classroom.

So, what about you? Are you ready to try TAGteach?

You may want more information. Please see the section below. If you need anything else, just ask me.

More about TAGteach

TAGteach stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance. TAGteach is a teaching and communication method that uses positive reinforcement and an event marker to tell a child that she has done something correctly. The event marker is a click sound made by a handheld device (the “tagger” or clicker). When the child performs the correct action, the parent/instructor immediately presses the button on the tagger and hands over a treat (candy, treat, token, praise, social recognition, or money) as a reinforcer. This results in the correct action occurring more often and for longer periods of time. With time and practice, children can learn many new skills with TAGteach. For more information about resources, research and other applications see the TAGteach website. TAGteach taggers are available here. See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism. Join the free TAGteach Listserve. Feel free to ask me a question. autism help tagteach ABA

For more information on TAGteach, autism and special education, click here. tagteach_logo_blue_600

TAGteach How-To: Think about what your child is doing, not what you want him to do

In the summer, moms and dads have a lot more unstructured time with their children with autism. During this time, we may engage in a lot of wishful thinking.  “I wish he would play with legos. I wish she could go on a play date.  I wish he did something other than running around and screaming.”

Let’s change this pattern of wishing

During my son’s younger years, I made the mistake of thinking about the behaviors I wanted him to do, as opposed to thinking about what he was actually doing. I kept thinking of behaviors in terms that were too big and too complicated. I wanted him to play games, interact with kids his age, and have fun—according to my understanding of what should be fun for him. This was wrong. This kind of thinking kept me focused on the deficits in his skill levels, and took away the many opportunities that were actually popping up every day to build up his skill levels. Instead, I should have been looking for the tiny micro-movements he was already performing that had the potential to be shaped into bigger functional skills. What do I mean?

tagteach, autism, ABA, applied behavior analysisFirst, Move to a pattern of observing

Well, if you look at the picture of this beautiful piece of pottery, please remember that it started with a soggy lump of clay. In order to make a beautiful pot, you start out with the clay, knead it, form a base, build up the sides, shape it, finish it, and bake it in an oven. It’s quite a process, with many steps. With our kids with autism, we have to take the same step-by-step approach. Look at your child, and look for the smallest possible movements he is making with his body that could serve as the foundation for further behaviors. Does your child make eye contact with anything or anyone, even accidentally? If so, tag and treat all instances of eye contact, no matter how fleeting. Does he touch anything? If so, tag and treat all instances of him touching functional objects (toys, books, household items). After he is touching these items, switch to tagging and treating every time he picks up an item, then when he holds an item, moves an item from one place to another, or plays with or uses the item.

Second, Move to a pattern of reinforcing

After you have built up your child’s skills in looking at interesting things and people, and built up his skills in touching and holding objects, you have the foundation for increasing play skills. Set out various play items and observe what your child does. By this time, he will understand that touching and handling these objects results in treats, praise and attention from mom or dad. He will most likely pick something up and do something with it. It doesn’t matter if his action is inappropriate from our point of view, the goal is to get him handling these objects in different ways. See if he places one object on or near another object or holds two objects at the same time. Strengthen these behaviors with lots of positive reinforcement. If you have the good fortune to have other children or adults in the household who are around the child, reinforce your child with autism for looking at, walking close to, talking to, or interacting with family members.

tagteach, autism, ABA, applied behavior analysisThird, Move to a pattern of shaping and building

Now comes the time for creative observation and tagging. Keep observing your child and tag and treat all cute, clever and interesting things he does with these objects. This will encourage him to try more activities and to do these activities for longer times. The same goes for interaction with others. Watch the child’s interactions with objects and people and see if there are any times when these come together: he may show a toy to a person, or carry something to a person. If so, give yourself a hearty pat on the back. You have successfully set the foundation for teaching more play and personal interaction skills to your child.

By using positive reinforcement very precisely, parents can build up small physical movements into complete play skills. Naturally, I also recommend that parents consider using TAGteach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) for this process. TAGteach allows parents to deliver high rates of very precise reinforcement for even the most fleeting behaviors. Here is a review of the tag points for each phase. See the end of the article for more information about TAGteach.

Observation

Eye contact with object (book, toy, household item)

Touches object

Holds objects

Picks up object

Eye contact with person

Reinforcement

Picks up object

Pushes object

Moves object around

Holds two objects simultaneously

Walks near person

Walks to person

Interacts with person

Shaping and Building

Novel actions with objects

Shows object to person

Carries object to person

Carries 2 objects to person

What is TAGteach?

TAGteach stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance. TAGteach is a teaching and communication method that uses positive reinforcement and an event marker to tell a child that she has done something correctly. The event marker is a click sound made by a handheld device (the “tagger” or clicker). When the child performs the correct action, the parent/instructor immediately presses the button on the tagger and hands over a treat (candy, treat, token, praise, social recognition, or money) as a reinforcer. This results in the correct action occurring more often and for longer periods of time. With time and practice, children can learn many new skills with TAGteach. For more information visit the TAGteach website. TAGteach taggers are available here. See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism. Join the free TAGteach Listserve. Feel free to ask me a question.clicker wrist

A River of Reinforcement and Smooth Sailing: TAGteach for Autism

Many of us as children played with sticks and homemade toy boats in streams or rivulets at the beach. How did we get those tippy little boats to sail downstream? We placed them in the middle of the stream where the water was deepest and flowed most strongly. Now, think about our kids with autism. We use positive reinforcement to increase functional skills, but how much reinforcement? I learned the answer from my son: a river of reinforcement.

autism help tagteach, applied behavior analysis, ABA, tag pointCreate a river that flows

Positive reinforcement is best when it is like a stream that can propel a twig or toy boat. The twig follows the stream just fine when the flow is deep and strong, but what happens when the stream dries up? There is no forward movement. The toy boat gets stuck and keels over. If we want the boat to move, the water has to be deep and flowing.

A strong flow supports learning

Let’s say a young girl is learning to pick up blocks and place them on a mat (with the eventual goal of stacking blocks and following block patterns). The tag point is Block On Mat. As soon as she places the block on the mat you would tag and treat. As she picks up speed with this skill, you can tag, tag, tag quickly for each block as it hits the mat. You can tag her literally almost every few seconds. Think of what she is experiencing: a flow of success and reinforcement that is supporting her every action. The flow gives her confidence, success, affirmation, and some very nice treats. She won’t falter, she’ll keep sailing along.

Change the flow

Want her to learn something else? Change the flow. She’s mastered the skill of placing blocks on the mat, so now you want her to learn to place a block on a square. You set out a new mat with a few big squares on it, and establish a new tag point: Block On Square. Now you tag and treat every time she places a block on a square, and you ignore blocks that are not placed on a square. Give her the same powerful flow of reinforcement for correct responses, and she will learn the new skill.

autism help, tagteach, applied behavior analysis, ABA, tag pointLet your child drift down a river of reinforcement

Just as a smoothly flowing river supports boats and allows them to move, so a strong flow of reinforcement can support a child with autism who needs to learn functional skills. Keep the reinforcement flowing, tag accurately and often, and watch your child move along. That is smooth sailing!

TAGteach Principles and Tag Points: A Quick Review

Let’s take a moment to review TAGteach and tag points. TAGteach Basic Principles explains, “Clarity and simplicity are key aspects of TAGteach. A tag point is defined so that the Instructor can easily judge whether the tag point is achieved and can mark it with a tag. Tag Point Criteria: A tag point must satisfy the following criteria … : What you want (phrase in the positive). One thing (the word “and” will never appear in a tag point). Observable/Measurable (you must be able to judge the completion clearly). Five words or less. Ignore Errors and Try Again.” See also the TAGteach International Glossary of TAGteach Terms and Phrases. 

autism help tagteach ABAWhat is TAGteach?

TAGteach stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance. TAGteach is a teaching and communication method that uses positive reinforcement and an event marker to tell a child that she has done something correctly. The event marker is a click sound made by a handheld device (the “tagger” or clicker). When the child performs the correct action, the parent/instructor immediately presses the button on the tagger and hands over a treat (candy, treat, token, praise, social recognition, or money) as a reinforcer. This results in the correct action occurring more often and for longer periods of time. With time and practice, children can learn many new skills with TAGteach. For more information visit the TAGteach website. TAGteach taggers are available here. See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism. Join the free TAGteach Listserve. Feel free to ask me a question.

Motivating Students Who Have Autism Spectrum Disorders

Today’s blog post comes to us courtesy of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism. The author is Rozella Stewart, an Education Special at Indiana University, now retired. In this outstanding article, she explains how to develop motivation in students with autism by focusing on their individual interests and strengths, how to structure a supportive environment, and the importance of delivering successful experiences.

autism help, tagteach, ABA  applied behavior analysisThe Challenge

Motivating individuals who have autism spectrum disorder is an essential but often difficult challenge. It is essential because, by definition, they have restricted repertoires of interests and skills needed for community living and coping. Without planned, positive experiences, these individuals often become increasingly victimized by their autism as they age. With successful experiences, each can become a victor who lives, works, and plays in the community. It is difficult, at least in part, because people who have autism are particularly vulnerable to key factors which impact motivation.

An individual’s motivation is strongly influenced by: learning history; learning styles; internal and external incentives to engage in tasks; expectations of success or failure with a particular task; meaningfulness and purposefulness of the task from the perspective of the learner; and task-surrounding environmental variables which affect attention and achievement. In general, tasks and activities which learners associate with past success tend to stimulate interest. Success begets success! Challenges which trigger memories of past anxieties and failures tend to stimulate avoidance reactions and self-preservation responses. Although occasional failure is often seen as a challenge by learners who are highly motivated to learn through problem solving, repeated failure fosters feelings of futility and frustration in fragile learners who lack self-confidence and may lack competencies for task-related problem solving. When diligently applied, proactive strategies often prove successful in eventually eliciting positive, productive responses and pride in personal accomplishment. The following are just a few success-oriented strategies that support motivation for individuals who have autism spectrum disorder:

Know the individual

  • Maintain a current list of the individual’s strengths and interests. Include preoccupations and fascinations that may be considered “bizarre” or strange. Use these strengths and interests as the foundation for gradually expanding the individual’s repertoire of skills and interests.
  • Note tasks or activities which create frustration and heightened anxiety for the individual. Attention to these factors can result in avoiding episodes which perpetuate insecurity, erode confidence, foster distrust in the environment, and generally result in avoidance behaviors.
  • Pay attention to processing and pacing issues which may be linked to cognitive and/or motor difficulties inherent to the individual’s autism. Give the individual time to respond. Vary types of cues given when movement disturbances are suspected.

Structure a supportive environment. Both the social and physical milieu should encourage and support successful task performance.

  • Teach in natural environments that contain the cues and reinforcement which prompt and maintain learned behaviors whenever possible.
  • Be sure that everyone involved encourages and supports independent effort whenever possible. Willingness to try to perform independently as opposed to remaining dependent on others results when the individual attributes successful performance to his own efforts rather than to external factors.
  • Plan optimally stimulating (neither too stimulating nor too nonstimulating) tasks and activities. Plan ways to decrease the impact of environmental distractors that interfere with task initiation and completion.

autism help, tagteach, applied behavior analysis, ABAUse instructional strategies which support successful outcomes.

  • Assemble materials, or teach the learner to assemble materials, in task- appropriate sequences.
  • Teach new tasks by providing examples or modeling so the learner has a clear vision of task sequences and expected outcomes.
  • Incorporate learning tasks into preferred topics and activities.
  • Plan tasks and activities that result in meaningful outcomes from the perspective of the learner. Vary tasks and activities frequently as opposed to requiring boring repetition. Conversely, capture opportunities to expand learning when interest is high.
  • Plan and present tasks and activities at an appropriate level of difficulty for the individual involved.
  • Provide instructions or information visually as opposed to verbally to decrease distraction and to make information more user friendly for the person.
  • Introduce unfamiliar tasks in a secure environment so that later learned familiarity will capture the individual’s attention in more challenging environments. For example, if science class is going to discuss the stars during class time, parents might observe a night sky with their son/daughter. This provides a familiar link to subsequent school experiences. This familiarization process is sometimes referred to as “teaching pivotal behaviors.” Learned behaviors become pivotal in motivating the individual to attend to tasks in a variety of situations.
  • Assign specific models for the individual to observe and imitate when in group activities such as circle time or group exercises. When in more fluid group situations, assign or help the individual to select a specific role which he or she can perform. Teach the individual how to perform selected roles.
  • Plan for successful outcomes that can be achieved “here and now” rather than at some more distant time. Rather than pushing for a perfect response, reinforce all goal-directed attempts.
  • Structure motivating event sequences in which the less familiar, less preferred activity is followed by the familiar, preferred experience (First _____, then _____.). Structure short, successful experiences with less preferred activities and longer, equilibrium restoring experiences with more preferred, easier-to-tolerate activities. This strategy works particularly well for very hesitant learners who have extremely restricted repertoires of interests.
  • For learners with broader repertoires of interests and skills, build motivational momentum by beginning with highly preferred, success- guaranteed tasks and alternating such tasks and activities with less preferred, more challenging tasks throughout the day. This strategy also works for individuals who are so highly aroused by anticipated preferred events that they can not focus on other tasks until the highly stimulating need has been addressed.
  • Focus on errorless learning. Teach (perhaps by modeling or having a peer model) the person to do the task right the first time.
  • Avoid having the learner undo or disassemble products which he or she perceives as finished. Erasing work or taking apart finished products often makes no sense to the learner and may result in a “Why do it?” response mode. Plan ways to correct or repeat work that do not involve undoing what has been done.
  • Offer attention-getting choices which stimulate personal involvement.
  • In general, accentuate the positive; disempower the negative.

Finally, remember that failure, sarcasm, ridicule, and apparent lack of confidence on the part of those who live and work with people with autism spectrum disorders decrease motivation and perpetuate cycles of learned helplessness. Increased motivation results from experiences which teach people how to interact with both social and physical environments in ways that result in positive outcomes. While always most secure with the familiar, resistance to the unfamiliar decreases and inclinations to try gradually increases as people with autism spectrum disorders learn that they will be okay and that they might even enjoy a new experience.

References and for further reading:

Butera, G., & Haywood, H.C. (1995). Cognitive education of young children with autism. In E. Schopler & G.B. Mesibov (Eds.), Learning and cognition in autism (pp. 269-292). New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Charlop, M.H., Kurtz, P.F., & Casey, F.G. (1990). Using abberant behaviors as reinforcers for autistic children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 23, 163-181.

Dyer, K., Dunlap, G., & Winterling, V. (1990). Effects of choice making on the serious problem behaviors of students with severe handicaps. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 23, 515-524.

Frea, W.D. (1995). Social-communication skills in higher functioning children with autism.

In R.L. Koegel & L.K. Koegel (Eds.), Teaching children with autism: Strategies for initiating positive interactions and improving learning opportunities (pp. 53-66).Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Koegel, R.L., Koegel, L.K., Frea, W.D., & Smith, A.E. (1995). Emerging interventions for children with autism: Longitudinal and lifestyle implications. In R.L. Koegel & L.K. Koegel (Eds.), Teaching children with autism: Strategies for initiating positive interactions and improving learning opportunities (pp. 1- 15). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Koegel, R.L., Koegel, L.K., & Parks, D.R. (1995). Teach the Individual: Model of Generalization. In R.L. Koegel & L.K. Koegel (Eds.), Teaching children with autism: Strategies for initiating positive interactions and improving learning opportunities (pp. 67-77). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Moes, D. (1995). Parent education and parenting stress. In R.L. Koegel & L.K. Koegel (Eds.), Teaching children with autism: Strategies for initiating positive interactions and improving learning opportunities (pp. 79-93). Baltimore, MD:Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Smith, M.D., Belcher, R.G., & Juhrs, P.D. (1995). A guide to successful employment for individuals with autism. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Stuart, R. (1996). Motivating students who have autism spectrum disorders. The Reporter, 1(3), 1-3. I would like to extend my thanks to Ms. Stewart and the IRCA for allowing us to share this excellent article.  This article can be viewed on the website of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism.

10 Pennies in Your Pocket . . . and autism?

autism help, tagteach, ABA

Many autism parents, and I am among them, have beloved children who are severely challenged. Our kids often struggle with language, basic tasks, and difficult or disruptive behaviors. To make it worse, they do these behaviors all the time—they are not occasional events. What can you do?

The Challenge

Because these behaviors are so relentless, it can seem that our kids never do anything positive or productive. I used to go crazy at autism meetings with my big question, “How can I get my kid to stop Behavior X?” only to be told, “You have to reinforce other behaviors.” Inwardly I would fume, “My kid has no other behaviors!”

But … I was wrong. After a while, I noticed that my son occasionally had a flash of a clever or funny behavior. These were always short and almost never repeated, but they were there. It takes time and a persistent eye to spot these elusive moments, but it can be done. Here’s one way to spot them.

10 Pennies in Your Pocket

Put 10 pennies in your pocket, then go watch your child. Every time he or she does something–anything–that is positive, take a penny and throw it into a dish. You may see a flash of eye contact, a moment of connection, a careful glance at an item, or a clever action of some sort. If you can manage it, keep a notepad next to the dish and jot down what your child did. At the end of the day, count the pennies in the dish.

How many positive things did your child do today? The first day you may have only one penny, but the next day you many have two or even three in the dish. After a few days, you may have many more pennies in the dish. Congratulations! You are now a skilled observer of the potentially positive behaviors your child already has, plus, you are probably happier about what your child is doing.

What’s next – TAGteach!

If you look at your dish of pennies and the list of cute actions that your child did, you have the foundation for building up all kinds of new skills. With your trained eye, take a more comprehensive look at your child. On this blog is a Child Observation Chart. Fill it out and make notes of all the physical movements your child performs. Look carefully at the movements that can be the basis of functional skills (for example: eye contact, touching a toy, using a fork).

Select two or three of these movements, get a tagger and a handful of treats (reinforcers), and go back to watching your child. As soon as he performs one of these physical movements, press the tagger (“click”!) and hand over a treat. The tag (or “click”) is an “event marker.” It tells your child, “That movement you just made is great and you are going to get a treat.” Since you just reinforced this behavior, the child will perform it again. He will eventually perform it more often and for longer periods of time!

The Laws of Behavioral Science

Why does this happen? Because of the laws of behavioral science. Behavioral biologist Karen Pryor explains, “Behavior that is already occurring, no matter how sporadically, can always be intensified with positive reinforcement.” This is the wonderful law of behavioral science that enables us to increase positive physical movements, even if they are very rare. Don’t let those precious flashes go to waste — catch them and reinforce them!

autism help, tagteach, ABAGrowth and Learning

Now you have the tools and knowledge to help your child learn all kinds of helpful skills. What would you like your child to learn? You can use TAGteach to help your child with dressing, playing with toys, going out for walks, and feeling comfortable in new situations. Many people are using TAGteach in all kinds of applications and for all kinds of learners, from kids with autism to elite gymnasts to orthopedic surgeons.

Want more information? Go to the TAGteach website. Participate in the TAGteach listserve; ask questions and share information with both newcomers and experienced TAG users.

10 pennies in your pocket can be the beginning of an amazing and productive journey.

What is TAGteach?

TAGteach stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance. TAGteach is a teaching and communication method that uses positive reinforcement and an event marker to tell a child that she has done something correctly. The event marker is a click sound made by a handheld device (the “tagger” or clicker). When the child performs the correct action, the parent/instructor immediately presses the button on the tagger and hands over a treat (candy, treat, token, praise, social recognition, or money) as a reinforcer. This results in the correct action occurring more often and for longer periods of time. With time and practice, children can learn many new skills with TAGteach. For more information see www.tagteach.com. TAGteach taggers are available here. See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism. Feel free to ask me a question.autism help, tagteach   ABA

 

A tag is worth a thousand words: Part 3

Part 3: Precise Reinforcement and Success versus Random Reinforcement and Confusion

 

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed how the click, or “tag,” is ONE specific sound that relates to ONE specific physical movement. This precise information to the child, “Hey, taking two steps in the same direction is great!” tells him that taking two steps in the same direction is a good thing to do more often. In Part 2, we discussed how the precise timing of the click helps the parent/instructor think about planning the small steps that lead up to the bigger behavior. My goal was to teach Safe Walking, and my son worked up from taking Two Steps/Same Direction, to taking Three Steps/Same Direction, and eventually Walking Beside Me, and Stopping At Corners. For reference, please see the chart I’ve been running in this series of articles.

tag vs 1000 words

Benefits of Precise Reinforcement

Part 3 of this series discusses how the precise reinforcement delivers success to the child, and avoids the problems of random reinforcement and confusion. The quick click of the tagger, followed up by a treat (strips of fruit roll-up), gave extraordinarily precise information to my son. The click marked the precise moment his second or third footstep hit the ground in the same direction. If he bolted or spun around, no click and no treat. Being a smart kid who likes fruit roll-ups, he quickly figured out he would get more by taking steps in the same direction.

autism help, tagteach,  ABA  applied behavior analysis

Billy

Problems of Random Reinforcement

Because of the precise, consistent sound of the click and consistent reinforcement for that one targeted behavior, my son knew what to do. There was no confusion because there was no delay in information and reinforcement. Contrast this to what often happens when a child is being urged to walk in a straight line or stay with a group: “Hey Billy, come back here, stay with the group. We’re walking to the playground. Yes, that’s it. You can swing at the playground. No, come this way, we’re going to the left not the right. Just go straight ahead to the swings.” This verbal barrage provides lots of confusing sounds, some instructions, a reprimand, a small amount of praise, and lots of non-pertinent information. Billy experiences too many words, too much emotion, and a lot of confusion and failure. This experience does not build a foundation for continued learning.

autism help, tagteach, applied behavior analysis, ABA

Zack

Let’s try it with TAGteach

Let’s look at how a different instructor uses a tagger to work with Zack; he starts out by watching Zack’s feet. Zack would experience the following: when he takes Two Steps/Same Direction: he hears a click and gets a tic-tac. Wow! That was easy and he got a nice treat. He takes Two Steps/Same Direction again, and experiences more success and reinforcement. Now he’s got it, he continues taking Two Steps/Same Direction, and before he knows it, he’s standing in front of his favorite swing. Zack experiences success and reinforcement, and really knows to listen for that click—because it means good things are coming. Now the foundation is set for more learning. He’s ready to learn to take Three Steps/Same Direction, then Four Steps/Same Direction, then Walk With Group.

What’s the bottom line?

Precise reinforcement delivers success to the student: he learned something, he did something correctly, and he will do that good thing again. Success breeds success, confidence and attentiveness. Random reinforcement mixed in with confusing instructions, corrections and reprimands delivers confusion and failure to the student. Which student do you think is experiencing success and confidence, Billy or Zack?

What is 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).  TAGteach combines positive reinforcement with an event marker to tell a child that she has done something correctly. The event marker is a click sound made by a handheld device (the tagger). When the child performs the correct action, the parent/instructor immediately presses the button on the tagger and hands over a treat (candy, treat, token, praise, social recognition, or money) as a reinforcer. This results in the correct action occurring more often and for longer periods of time. With time and practice, children can learn many new skills with TAGteach.

autism, help, tagteach, ABA, positive reinforcement, applied behavior analysisFor more information see the TAGteach International website. Join the free TAGteach listserve   TAGteach taggers are available here.  See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism or ask a question (with no obligation).

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