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).

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Martha Gabler BAM Radio Podcast


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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.

 

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

Fluency2

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)

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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.

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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).

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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.” (Dictionary.com)

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?

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5 Helpful Tips to Make Life Easier for Autism Families

autism, tagteach, ABA, positive reinforcement

This article features helpful comments for parents of young children from Ms. Ricky Teichman, Director at The Puzzle Place, a daycare and preschool in Freehold, NJ for children with autism and other special needs.

 

Being a parent or guardian of kids with autism means having a different set of guidelines from that of non-autism homes. Careful decisions have to be made, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a confident caregiver to your special-needs child. Thankfully, there are practical and proven ways to make living with autism more manageable both for you and your child.

1.  Keep in mind that consistency is key

If there is one thing that a child with autism needs, it is an established routine. For instance, if you use positive reinforcement for good behavior, make sure to use it consistently while explaining why you’re rewarding your child. A regular system will help reinforce the learning techniques from school or daycare, including communication tools. Keeping to a structured schedule for mealtimes, playtime, and bedtime can also help keep unruly behavior at bay.

2.  Talk to other autism families

You will need a support group, and where better to get it than from other people who are going through similar circumstances? You can bond with other parents or guardians at therapy, or go on social networking sites and forums online to discuss tips on how they deal with autism. While others have different methods and advice to give, you can still learn from their experience what will and won’t work for your own child. The bottom line is, there is no need to feel alone when you aren’t.

3.  Become an expert on your child’s own special needs

You will have to prepare yourself for the fact that you can (and most probably will) make mistakes in your mission as part of an autism family – and that’s okay! Kids with autism aren’t created the same, after all. The important thing is to become an expert when it comes to your own child. Learning the words, tools, medication, situations, and other factors that he or she responds well to (or which triggers disorderly behavior) will put you on the road to a more manageable, healthier home environment.

4.  Make your home accident-proof

All children thrive in safe, happy homes. Your child will need help with boundaries, so it’s your responsibility to provide verbal and visual cues to where they cannot go, or what they can’t play with. Create a zone that is accident-proof with tools like childproof locks, electrical outlet covers, safety latches, electric tape to cover exposed cords and outlets, locked drawers, light, padded furniture, and secured doors and windows. A room or area where you can keep constant supervision is a must.

5.  Shop for a daycare facility that really cares

Your child needs needs a high quality, developmentally-appropriate programming for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with autism and related disorders. There are many daycare centers that promise a safe, supportive learning environment, yet fall short on many aspects including safety standards, child-to-caregiver ratio, and proper learning equipment. Do your research. Talk to parents of other kids with autism about the daycare facility they go to, and seek an honest assessment. Make a checklist of your must-haves, and don’t hesitate to ask the right questions to staff of potential facilities. It is your right as a parent or guardian to know who you will be entrusting your child to.

Along with patience and a lot of love, you can help build a thriving, supportive, and healthy environment for your child. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn some more. You have a whole lifetime of discovering together what can help them (and you!) become happier, healthier, and more responsive people.

Ricky Teichman is the Director at The Puzzle Place, a daycare and preschool in Freehold, NJ for children with Autism and related disorders. You can reach her at 732-994-PUZZ (7899) or at info@ThePuzzlePlace.org. Learn more at http://thepuzzleplace.org/.

 

 

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TAGteach for autism — it’s not Harry Potter, it’s behavioral science!

Zauberer mit magischen Kräften

When Hermione wants to pass through the locked door to the Chamber of Secrets, she waves her wand and cries out, “Alohamora!” In a flash the door opens. This is magic.

As autism parents, we don’t have magic wands. We do have taggers, small plastic boxes with a “magic button” that makes a click sound when pressed. TAGteach taggers, plus two facts, can help parents transform the behavior of their children with autism. With TAGteach it is easy to teach your child helpful skills like Safe Walking, Safe Car Trip Behavior, Going to the Grocery Store, and Sleeping. It’s also great for tantrum de-escalation.

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

The two facts are:

  • “Behavior” is “movement”
  • Positive Reinforcement Increases Behaviors (physical movements of the body)

TAGteach enables extremely precise positive reinforcement of behavior by using an acoustical signal to “mark” the behavior – at the precise moment the child performs the behavior. The acoustical signal is a short, sharp 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.

With TAGteach, it is easy to reinforce behaviors precisely and quickly. The immediate, accurate feedback and positive reinforcement result in the child performing the correct action more often, and for longer periods of time.

Let’s look at the difference between Harry Potter and TAGteach. With magic, here’s what Harry and his pals do:

  1. They wave their wands (action)
  2. Then something happens (event)

With TAGteach, here’s what autism parents can do:

  1. Wait for something good to happen (event)
  2. Then press the tagger (action)

The order is reversed. The wand makes something happen once. The tagger makes something good happen again. TAGteach is an excellent tool to help your child perform more great behaviors more often.

In order to help autism parents understand and apply these concepts, I have created a free online course that explains the basics of behavior science, how to observe your child and how to use reinforcement effectively.

Click Here for Free Course

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How I taught my nonverbal child with autism to read

autism, reading, TAGteach, Direct Instruction, ABA

Reading — From dream to reality

I am the mother of a nonverbal boy with severe autism.

It was very important to me that my son be able to read:

  • I can accept that he has severe autism
  • I can accept that he is nonverbal
  • I could not accept that he would go through life not knowing how to read

It took me a long time and many hours of work. I made many mistakes. Eventually I succeeded. Here are the three steps I used to teach my son to read: 1) Make sure foundation skills are in place, 2) Use Direct Instruction reading programs, and 3) Provide lots of supports, lots of opportunities to practice, and high levels of positive reinforcement.

Step One: make sure foundation skills are in place

The skills a child with autism will need to begin reading instruction include the ability to sit at a table for at least 15-20 minutes and the ability to respond to questions or complete tasks (this is generally achieved through an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) or VB (Verbal Behavior) program).

During the pre-reading instruction, I focused on increasing the range of sounds my son could produce, and mastering as many labels of objects and actions as possible: such as cat, dog, house, running, sitting, sleeping and so forth.

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TAGteach for Autism: How the Science of B.F. Skinner Helped Our Family Gain Happiness

doug martha beachArticle originally published in Operants, the newsletter of the B.F. Skinner Foundation

I am the mother of a nonverbal teenage boy with severe autism. I’d like to tell you a little bit about my family’s journey with autism, and a lot about the wonderful method known as Teaching with Acoustical Guidance (TAGteach).

I will describe how TAGteach meets the three essential conditions for effective teaching, as delineated by Dr. B.F. Skinner, why this simple method is so effective for learners with autism, and how it can be a boon for autism families and autism professionals. At the end, I hope you will be inspired to try TAGteach for yourself!

Our autism journey

I love ABA now, but came to it by chance, not choice. The day my son was diagnosed with autism was the day that the world turned upside-down for us. It also ended up being the day that eventually brought us to ABA. After that fateful day, we had to deal with a devastating diagnosis, try to get services, find out that the best services (ABA) were out of reach, and then, figure out a way to move forward.

We moved forward first with ABA and Verbal Behavior, and eventually learned about Direct Instruction and Precision Teaching. Each of these made a huge contribution to my son’s progress. I was amazed by these effective scientific methods for teaching, and was astounded then (and still am) that they remain unfamiliar, under-utilized and often inaccessible for most families.

A huge stroke of luck came when I stumbled onto Teaching with Acoustical Guidance (TAGteach). My son had many difficult behaviors; as soon as I read about combining an event marker with positive reinforcement, I realized I had found a way to teach him helpful skills. This turned out to be the case.

autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcementWhat 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 enables extremely precise positive reinforcement of behavior by using an acoustical signal to “mark” a behavior – at the precise moment the child performs the behavior! The acoustical signal is a short, sharp 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.

The TAG is a Conditioned Reinforcer

After a few experiences of hearing the tag and receiving a reinforcer, the child quickly learns that the tag means good things are coming. He starts to look out for the sound, and more importantly, starts figuring out what caused this nice event to happen. The child then relies on the tag to tell him to do that good action again. At this point, it is possible to shape new behaviors in the child quickly and efficiently. TAGteach is so reliable because it meets the three essential conditions for effective teaching, as described below.

The Three Essential Conditions for an Effective Teaching Program

Over fifty years ago, Dr. B.F. Skinner described the three essential conditions of an effective teaching program. They are:

  • Immediate feedback
  • Moving at the child’s pace
  • Learning in many small steps

Let’s see how TAGteach meets each of these requirements.

autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcementImmediate Feedback

When learning a skill, immediate feedback on whether your response is correct or incorrect is essential to effective learning. Why? Because, when you know instantly that you did something right, you feel success! You will do that good thing again, and you will be willing to try the next step because you have a history of success.

In contrast, delays in feedback lead to delays in learning. If you’re not sure, or if you feel uncertain, you won’t know which action was correct.  You won’t feel confident when another task is presented.  The delay results in confusion and dismay, which negatively affect learning.

How does TAGteach deliver immediate feedback?

With the “tag,” the acoustical signal marks the correct action at the exact moment the child performs it!

In a TAGteach setting, the child (perhaps a child with autism or another disability) performs an action. If the child performs a desired action (for example, putting a puzzle piece in place, saying his name at an appropriate vocal level, or rolling a ball), the parent/instructor immediately “tags” the action with a tagger (the key acoustical signal in TAGteach) and follows up with a reinforcer (a treat or reward to the child’s liking).

Since the child receives the acoustical feedback (the “tag”) at the split second she performs the action, she knows exactly what she did that is right!  This is exhilarating for any child, but especially a child with autism. The “tag” signals success!  “Yes, you did it!”  She feels happy, confident, ready to repeat that great action, and emotionally ready for the next step.

Thus the tag provides immediate feedback to the learner, and TAGteach delivers on the first of these three essential conditions.

autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcementMoving at the Child’s Pace

Dr. Skinner emphasized the need for students to learn at their own pace.  Learning at her own pace is crucial for a child with autism. These children have so many sensory and emotional issues that the teaching process must respect their need for time to respond to, and understand new stimuli.

Since children with autism often have problems with pre-cursor learning skills such as eye contact and imitation skills, it is important to teach these. Yet, eye contact, for example, can be a difficult task for a child with autism for a variety of reasons.

How does TAGteach allow the child to learn at her own pace?

By observing the child and waiting for her to act.

In a TAGteach environment, the focus is on observing the child and waiting for her to perform the desired action. In the teaching goal discussed above, the solution is not to force eye contact, but to reinforce it whenever the child performs it. Eye contact, by its very nature, is a fleeting behavior. It is often just a flash and then it disappears.

TAGteach, with the quick “tag,” captures each flicker of eye contact whenever the child chooses to perform it. If the child performs it only once a day or once a week, it will be reinforced at that rate. As the child gains comfort and performs the skill more often, it will be reinforced more often. TAGteach respects the child’s ability to perform this behavior, and allows the child to build it at her own pace.

The TAGteach practice of observing and waiting for the child ensures that the child learns at her own pace, the second of Dr. Skinner’s essential conditions.

autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcementLearning Organized in Small Steps

The third essential condition for effective learning is a carefully constructed program where the skill is taught in many small steps. The reason for this is to ensure that the child experiences success in the learning progression. Many successful small steps result in a confident, motivated learner.

How does TAGteach deliver learning in small steps?

With the “tag point” process.

The tag point describes the exact physical movement which will earn the “tag” and reinforcement. The tag point must meet four criteria:

  • What I want
  • One Criterion
  • Observable
  • Five Words or Less

Also, the first tag point must be set at the “point of success.” This means that you start reinforcing a child for performing a behavior she can already do.

Let’s go back to the example of teaching eye contact. We tend to think of eye contact as two people locking their eyes in a mutual gaze. Yet, this girl may not be able to do that; in fact, she may keep her head turned away from people. The first tag point would not be “Looks at me,” but may be, “Head turns ¼ to front.” So, every time she moves her head slightly towards her mother or an instructor, she earns the “tag” and reinforcement.

With time, practice and patience she will regularly turn ¼ to the front, then slightly more, until she is comfortable facing people directly. Once she is comfortable facing people, the tag points can be set for a progression such as “Eyes on my neck/chin,” “Eyes on my cheek/nose,” “Eyes on my eyes.” After she is comfortable with the “Eyes on my eyes” tag point, you can work on duration, until she is comfortable with maintaining eye contact. These many small steps take a child from avoiding eye contact to being comfortable with appropriate eye contact, thus mastering an important learning readiness skill.

With the tag point process, any parent or instructor can start teaching a child a new skill. Start out with something the child can already do. When that is mastered, add one very tiny step to the process and reinforce that until the child is comfortable. Keep building from there.

TAGteach, with the acoustical signal from the “tag,” delivers on all three of the essential conditions outlined by Dr. Skinner. This is the reason for the success of TAGteach.

In summary, with TAGteach it is easy to reinforce behaviors precisely and quickly. The immediate, accurate feedback and positive reinforcement result in the child performing the correct action more often, and for longer periods of time. With immediate feedback and learning tasks broken down into small steps, children can learn many new skills with TAGteach — at their own pace.

Why is TAGteach Ideal for Children with Autism?

The acoustical signal gets around the common problems of sensory processing and speech processing in children with autism, and offers precise, instantaneous reinforcement in place of slower, traditional verbal reinforcement.

TAGteach gets around Sensory and Speech Processing Problems

TAGteach is ideal for children with autism because it gets around the sensory problems commonly associated with autism. Recent research tells us that children with autism perceive physical actions as happening faster than they do in reality, and process speech sounds much more slowly. This places high sensory demands on the child because he has to try to coordinate fast movement with slow words—quite an obstacle to learning.

TAGteach cuts through the confusion. TAGteach uses one consistent sound (the “tag”) to deliver one consistent message, “Yes! You are correct. Now you are getting a reward.” This clear and simple information makes a huge impact. The child quickly learns that the sound means reinforcement is on the way! He learns to look out for it and pay attention to what causes the reinforcement. When he is engaged with his environment and looking for reinforcement, you can start shaping behaviors.

TAGteach lets you deliver reinforcement on time

Slow, late reinforcement causes delays in learning. With TAGteach you can mark a behavior instantaneously and reinforce it promptly. This speeds up the learning process.

Karen Pryor, author of Don’t Shoot the Dog, has a beautiful description of why an audible sound is much better at “marking” a behavior than our spoken words:

“… [P]lease note that the human voice is a very poor marker signal… too long, too slow, too variable, carrying too many confounding messages (your sex, your age, your mood, your health, etc.) and it also almost always late. Furthermore, you can’t distinguish when you are a mini-second late with your voice, but you CAN tell at once, without experience, when your click is late. (Karen Pryor, Penn State Listserve System, Standard Celeration Society, 18 May 2005.)

For these reasons, TAGteach is effective in increasing skills in children with autism.

TAGteach has great potential to help autism families

To teach a child with autism, it is imperative to know about the use of positive reinforcement to build skills, and the use of reinforcement schedules to maintain skills.

The beauty of the TAGteach method is that it takes this body of scientific knowledge and simplifies the teaching protocols to the point where non-experts can implement them, including grieving, overwhelmed, exhausted autism parents. TAGteach gives parents a way to put their keen observational skills to good use and help their children learn functional skills. Everyone wins.

TAGteach has great potential to help autism professionals

There is so much potential to teach so many things with this beautiful method. TAGteach can be a wonderful complement to ABA and VB programs: every time the child makes the desired response, tag and reinforce. The accuracy and clarity of reinforcement can speed up the learning process.

TAGteach is outstanding for working in the natural environment. As the child walks around, it is easy to mark and reinforce even the tiniest muscle flinch of touch, play, eye contact or vocalization behaviors.

autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcementFor teaching social skills, there is tremendous potential, especially with the “peer tagging” approach. In peer tagging, each participant in a small group is given taggers to mark and reinforce the target behaviors of that particular session.  As they observe and reinforce each other for the desired behaviors, they learn them faster, and have a good time doing it.

I could go on, but will stop here. I hope you share my vision of how TAGteach can help children, parents, instructors, aides and professionals in the autism community.

There are so many creative applications possible, I’ve listed only a few here. We are limited only by our imaginations, so let’s unleash them and get going!

More Information About 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 enables extremely precise positive reinforcement of behavior by using an acoustical signal to “mark” the behavior – at the precise moment the child performs the behavior! The acoustical signal is a short, sharp 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.

With TAGteach, it is easy to reinforce behaviors precisely and quickly. The immediate, accurate feedback and positive reinforcement result in the child performing the correct action more often, and for longer periods of time. With immediate feedback and learning tasks broken down into small steps, children (and adults) can learn many new skills with TAGteach — at their own pace.

autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcementTAGteach International website.

TAGteach taggers available here.

Book by Martha Gabler about TAGteach for Autism.

More information, ask here.

Martha Gabler’s Mailing list sign-up here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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