Nonverbal Autism and TAGteach: How do kids know what they did to earn a tag if you can’t tell them?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions about TAGteach.

Many children with autism have low verbal skills. Not only may they be unable to speak, they may also be unable to endure the sounds of spoken language (like my son); even if they can manage to listen to language, they may be unable to understand and/or follow verbal directions.

These are challenging learners. TAGteach can reach them because the tag and reinforcer communicate where words cannot.

So… let’s say you’re using TAGteach for the first time with a nonverbal child who is flailing about and shrieking. In the midst of this maelstrom of activity, you spot a split second of a desired behavior (let’s say Quiet Mouth) that the child performed and you tag and reinforce that behavior.

How on earth does the child know, in the midst of the chaos, which behavior earned the tag?

The answer has four parts:

First: The sound means good news!

The child notices that the sound of the tag is followed by a nice treat, so the child becomes interested in the sound. Since the sound indicates that something nice (a desired reinforcer) is about to happen, the sound quickly acquires meaning and significance. This learning phase happens quickly. My son figured this out in 25 seconds. “Hmm, that sound is great!”

Second: The child realizes that he causes the tag to happen!

The child notices that his own actions are causing the tag and reward. The tag is not some random, inexplicable event in his environment. The tag is aligned precisely with something he has done, and it’s always followed by a nice treat. This is the big light bulb moment! “Hey, it’s because of something I did!”

Third: The child figures out which behavior resulted in a tag!

How does this child do this part? Since children with autism are hyper-sensitive to their environment, they perceive very quickly when timely information (the tag) and nice reinforcers (the treat) are entering their environment. They use the process of elimination to figure out exactly what they are doing that caused this.

Process of Elimination

“Hmm, I was jumping around and screaming, then I heard the tag and got a nice treat. Was it for jumping up and down? Let me try jumping again; I see: no tag, no treat, so no. Was it for swinging my arms around? Let me try that again: no tag, no treat, so no. Wait, I’m running out of air and want to scream, let me pause and take a breath. Hey, I heard the tag and got a treat. Was it for the pause? Let me try that again: Quiet Mouth, tag! Treat! Yes! It’s Quiet Mouth! Okay, I’ll do more Quiet Mouth! Wow, I’m smart!”

Our kids with autism are brilliant at this. They figure it out quickly, and it’s a thrill for them when they get that big lightbulb moment!

Fourth: The child wants more success and reinforcement, so he continues paying attention to the tag

Like us, kids with autism want success and reinforcement. Once they know how to get it, they will repeat the process, and get to the point where they are looking out for tags and reinforcement and responding quickly.

In a period of often less than fifteen minutes, a nonverbal child can learn that:

  • The tag means success
  • He performed a productive behavior
  • He knows what that behavior is
  • It’s worthwhile to perform that behavior again

At this point, the stage is set for teaching all kinds of functional behaviors. It’s also set for communicating and interacting with a child on a personal level. The child performs behaviors, the adults respond with tags and reinforcers, and the child experiences success. The child builds trust in his environment and starts trying out new behaviors; the adults respond patiently with more information (tags) and reinforcement.

The child is not the only one experiencing reinforcement; the adults wielding the tagger are also experiencing massive reinforcement and empowerment! The adults realize that they can do it! They can change the child’s behavior and can help that child learn useful skills. This is the powerful upward spiral of learning and reinforcement that TAGteach delivers.

The cycle of success builds and expands.

autism teaching ABAWhat 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 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, quickly, and intensively. 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.

To learn more about this effective, low-cost method visit TAGteach International or Chaos to Calm

For research on TAGteach, please see the TAGteach Reference List

Join the free TAGteach for Learning, Behavior, and Autism Facebook group

TAGteach taggers available here and i-Clicks available here

See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism or feel free to ask me a question (with no obligation).

Sign up for my mailing list to receive updates, new articles and free tips right in your inbox!

If you liked this post, please share it. Thank you!

 

Question: How does my child know what to do when we say, “The tag point is __ __ __ __ __”?

This question comes up often when people first learn about TAGteach.

The answer is:   It depends on the learner’s profile of skills.

Before we get into a detailed explanation of the answer, let’s review the definition of a tag point, how the tag point phrase is developed, and what it is designed to achieve.

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TAGteach for Autism: The Calming Tag Points

Word calm written with wooden letters on rustic surface and colorful flowers

The calming tag points are five tag points that I come back to time and again because they are so useful. The calming tag points are:

  • Quiet Mouth – The child is silent
  • Appropriate Vocalization or Communication (words, signs, gestures, picture symbols, device) – The child communicates in his/her own way
  • Hands Down – Hands placed at side or in front of body (not flailing about)
  • Feet On Floor – Both feet touch the floor or ground
  • Exhales – Child breathes out; you can see shoulders/chest go down upon exhalation.

All of these are simple behaviors that a child performs often, so there are lots of opportunities to tag and reinforce.These tag points increase calm and communicative behaviors in children with autism. Plus, the more reinforcement and success our children experience, the happier they are.

Use Reactively — For Tantrums and Agitation

In the early years I used these tag points to calm my son down during tantrums. They were highly effective in calming him down and helping him regain his composure. Best of all, after using TAGteach a few times in this way, his tantrums diminished dramatically.

Use Pro-actively — For Calm and Individual Development

After my child learned to be calm, I found myself coming back to these tag points again and again. Why? I discovered that they were a great way to maintain his calm behavior and promote happiness and competence.

Once or twice a day, I sit down with my son for 5-10 minutes and tag and reinforce the calming tag points. He enjoys these quiet sessions very much, and the result is a trusting relationship: he feels calm, happy, and supported (and so do I).

If we are traveling or doing something unexpected, I tag and reinforce the calming tag points too. The reinforcement and familiarity keep him calm and collected; as a result, he handles challenging and unexpected situations very well and often displays new and amazingly competent behaviors. I think of this as “pro-active” tagging.

The Calming Tag Points – Always Available and Always Useful

For these reasons, I recommend that parents and professionals dealing with children with autism consider using the calming tag points as part of their behavior building repertoire. They work, they are easy to observe, and the child enjoys the success and reinforcement.

For more information, please see these links:

 

Autism, ABA, autism parent help

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 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 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, quickly, and intensively. 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.

To learn more about this effective, low-cost method visit TAGteach International or Chaos to Calm

For research on TAGteach, please see the TAGteach Reference List

Join the free TAGteach for Learning, Behavior, and Autism Facebook group

TAGteach taggers available here and i-Clicks available here

See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism or feel free to ask me a question (with no obligation).

Sign up for my mailing list to receive updates, new articles and free tips right in your inbox!

If you liked this post, please share it. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

Got autism? Got screaming and verbal stimming? You can teach your child peace and quiet.

got-autism-screaming

Originally posted Dec 15, 2014. Updated Jan 9, 2017

Screaming, loud noises, verbal stimming

These are the sounds we autism parents hear all too frequently in our homes.

They never seem to stop.

They drive us to distraction.

They can destroy the peace and quiet of the family. Sometimes they can destroy the family itself.

When my son was little, he did a lot of screaming and verbal stimming. I discovered that with the positive behavioral method known as TAGteach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) I was able to reduce these sounds, increase appropriate vocalizations and get some of that precious peace and quiet.

TAGteach uses positive reinforcement

TAGteach is based on the science of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and uses positive reinforcement to build desired behaviors. In addition to the positive reinforcement, TAGteach adds an “event marker” i.e., an acoustical signal to indicate to the child when he/she has performed a desired behavior. The acoustical signal is generally a click sound, called a “tag” made by any type of clicker device, or better yet, a TAGteach tagger.  After the “tag,” you give a reinforcer to the child. Here’s how I used this. (more…)

Want your child with autism to see the world? Travels with Autism: Part 4 – Learning something unexpected

travels-with-autism-part-4

Taking a nonverbal young adult with severe autism on a trip to Wyoming turned out to be a wonderful experience, and a learning opportunity for me. One thing I learned about (unexpectedly) was the benefit of doing “pro-active tagging.”

The Problem — Don’t Spook the Horses!

autism, therapeutic riding, autism travelDuring the horseback rides I wanted to be sure my son could maintain Quiet Mouth behavior for two reasons: so that the other riders would have an enjoyable outing and so that he would not spook the horses by a sudden loud outburst. I could not tag and reinforce this behavior since I riding behind him and he was out of reach.

The Accidental Solution — Pro-active Tagging

What to do? I mulled this over the first morning as I took my son for a long walk before breakfast. During this walk I decided to tag intensively for what I call the “calming tag points”: Quiet Mouth, Appropriate Vocalization, Hands Down, Smiles, and Cute Glances. Intensive tagging and reinforcing had worked well on our airplane trip to keep him calm and happy, so it seemed reasonable to do this again.

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Want your child with autism see the world? Help them cope with new sensory environments! Travels with Autism: Part 3 – Sensory Challenges

travels-with-autism-part-3

In Wyoming this past summer we had the opportunity to climb Mt. Washburn (elevation 10,219 feet), a mountain renowned for the winds whipping around its slopes, often at speeds of 20-30 miles per hour; at the summit, the gusts blow even harder.

Sensory Challenges

affordable autism intervention autism travel
(See the scrunched up shoulders!)

It’s one thing to read about strong winds; it’s another thing to experience them on your way up a high mountain. The wind and powerful gusts posed new sensory challenges to my son as we climbed, not only the sensation of blowing air, but the noise and roaring.

To get my son Douglas up and down the mountain I saw right away that he would need extra supports, especially since his reaction to the buffeting wind was to stand stock still, scrunch up his face and shoulders, and not move! Clearly he was enjoying the wind, but we also had to move along.

The tag point to address this situation was obvious: Take Next Step.

Going too slowly

Although I knew how to address the problem, I hadn’t expected the lengthy “stand still” reactions to the wind. My concern was that it would take so long to do the hike that we would be late with his food schedule and that he would become hungry and upset. This concern only worsened when we were well up the trail and I realized that he had already eaten the snacks in the back pack while we were in the car!

We kept going. As we dawdled along, I tagged and reinforced him every time he took the next step, until finally our pace picked up and we made slow, steady progress along the trail. We enjoyed the spectacular views and had pleasant chats with the many families and groups who power-walked past us. Everyone marveled at the wind.

Reaching the peak and the kindness of strangers

affordable autism intervention autism travelAfter being almost knocked off our feet by the howling winds of the final ascent, we scrambled our way into the shelter at the top. There we were, windblown, hungry, and foodless. Luckily, a number of people who had passed us along the way spotted us and very kindly offered Douglas snacks and drinks from their backpacks. I was very grateful.

 

affordable autism intervention autism travel

 It all worked out

Thanks to positive behavioral supports and the kindness of fellow hikers, we had the wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience of climbing the highest peak in Yellowstone – a dream come true.

TAGteach is a great tool for dealing with unexpected sensory issues: look at the sensory challenge, set a tag point for a desired behavior that the child can do (or is already doing), and tag and reinforce intensively. Naturally, if a situation is too difficult, re-assess and make appropriate changes.

It would have been so easy to bail out of this hike from frustration because we spent a lot of time standing still and going nowhere; yet with patience, persistence, and positive reinforcement we made it to the top.

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 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, quickly, and intensively. 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.

affordable autism intervention tagteach for autismTo learn more about this effective, low-cost method visit TAGteach International or Chaos to Calm

Join the free TAGteach for Learning, Behavior, and Autism Facebook group

TAGteach taggers available here and i-Clicks available here

See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism or feel free to ask me a question (with no obligation).

Sign up for my mailing list to receive updates, new articles and free tips right in your inbox!

If you liked this post, please share it. Thank you!

 

 

Want your child with autism to see the world? A world champion told us, “Be strong and stay encouraged.” Travels with Autism: Part 2: A Life Lesson

travels-with-autism-part-2-1

A dream abandoned

When my children were little, I dreamed of taking them out West to see the Rocky Mountains and national parks. My younger son’s autism diagnosis and challenging behaviors put that dream out of mind for years.

This summer an opportunity popped up to go to Wyoming, and off we went, just the two of us. So …

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Want your child with autism to see the world? We used TAGteach for a smooth flight! Travels With Autism: Part 1: The Airplane

travels-with-autism-part1

Travels With Autism: Part 1 — The Airplane

Over the summer I took my 20 year old nonverbal son with severe autism on a trip to Wyoming. This involved a 3 ½ hour flight from the East Coast to Denver and a 1 ½ hour flight from Denver to Wyoming; it was about six hours of plane travel, not counting time waiting in the airports.

Since my son has lots of experience with 7-hour car trips, I wasn’t overly worried, but an airplane is a different environment, and you can’t just pull over and take a break. I took pains to be prepared and had a plan of positive behavioral supports in place for the flights.

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Get Those Heels Down! Innovative Ways to Deal with Toe Walking

toe-walking-tag-point

This article was first published as a cover article in Autism Parenting Magazine Issue #51, Aug 2016

We’ve all seen children with autism who engage in toe-walking: the child walks on his or her toes or the ball of foot without putting much weight on the heel or any other part of the foot. Toe walking is so common that it has become one of the early indicators for a potential autism diagnosis.

When we first see it, we may feel amused. However, when we see it go on and on, we may feel concerned. Should we be concerned?

Prolonged toe walking through childhood can lead to physical problems:

  • Tightening of the heel chords
  • Incorrect foot position
  • Abnormal stress on the bones and ligaments in the knees, hips, and lower back (Yoell, 2001).

 Toe walking can lead to social problems:

  • Toe walking can make walking long distances very tiring
  • Children may have trouble keeping up with family and friends
  • It can create problems with shoes; they get worn down quickly in odd places or may be difficult to fit (Unity Therapy, 2016)

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Autism, finger licking and face rubbing, again! TAGteach victory, again!

how-to-breaka-behavior-chain

A few weeks ago, a behavior popped up after a long absence: finger licking and face rubbing. Having already dealt with this once before, I was ready to tackle it again.

This time, my son (nonverbal, severe autism) added a new twist – a much more complex presentation of this behavior: he licked his fingers and rubbed vigorously around his mouth with one hand, then the other hand, and finished up by frantically rubbing his fingers together. The skin around his mouth was red and rubbed raw, with tiny white blisters popping up on his cheeks.

It took three long walks over three days to address this issue (often I use long walks as a time to work on behaviors). My plan was to tag and reinforce Hands Down behavior, also described in the previous post.

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