Want to avoid emotional overload? Use TAGteach!

autism, ABA, TAGteach, applied behavior analysis

Kids with autism tend to be “super-sensory.” They often report that they experience sounds, sights and movements at very intense levels. This intensity can overload their systems, cause them emotional distress, and be an impediment to learning new skills.

We are all like this to some extent. We experience emotions, and we broadcast our emotions through our body language and especially through our voices. Probably everyone has had the experience of calling a friend on the phone and, from the tone of voice when the person answers, being able to tell instantly how that person is feeling.

The Human Voice Conveys Emotion

Intentionally or not, the human voice conveys a lot of information – often too much information! Karen Pryor, noted behavioral scientist, wrote a powerful description of this phenomenon. “…Please note that the human voice is a very poor marker signal . . . too long, too slow, too variable, carrying too many confounding messages (your sex, age, your mood, your health, etc.) . . .”

Emotional Information Can Be Overwhelming

So when we talk to a child with autism, we are not only using words that the child may not understand, but we are also inflicting the burden of our emotional and physical states on a super-sensitive and possibly apprehensive learner. Now the child has to try to understand the task and cope with lots of emotional information, including his own emotional reactions to the speaker. “Oh no! She’s upset. What did I do wrong?” The speaker may be upset about something that has absolutely nothing to do with the child, but the child will not know that. The child may react with emotion or behavior that seems out of line to the speaker, and then the speaker will react to that. It’s easy to see how this invisible chain of emotional reactions has the potential to spiral into a misunderstanding or tantrum.

TAGteach Eliminates the Emotional Overload

TAGteach is a powerful tool for getting rid of the pesky, distracting emotional information embedded in the human voice, and replacing it with an easy-to-understand and joyful message — a message of success and confidence. TAGteach uses an acoustical signal (a “tag” or click) to tell a learner when he has done something right. The procedure is as follows: The moment the learner performs the desired task, the instructor presses the tagger to make the sound, then immediately hands over a reinforcer (a treat, candy or token).

The “Tag” Means Success

The child learns that the tag sound means success! He did something right, plus he’s getting a treat. The sound becomes very pleasant and the child learns to look forward to it. The child can learn more efficiently because there are no conflicting messages. There is no confusing language, no upsetting emotional undertones, no self-doubt or worry. The child can feel safe and focus his energy on one thing at a time. He can relax, learn and grow. From the child’s point of view, this is wonderful!

Out With Emotional Overload, In With Confidence

It’s easy to get rid of the confusion, doubt and emotion that can bedevil the learning process for a child with autism. Use TAGteach to deliver these facts: “You did it right.” “That’s it!” “Wow, you understand.” “You are getting a reward.” “You learned something important.” “I’m happy about you!”

We can respect a child’s emotional and sensory needs and create a joyful, confidence-building learning environment — with TAGteach!

autism, TAGteach, ABA, applied behavior analysis, clickers




TAGteach: What to do when dark clouds roll in

autism, tagteach, applied behavior analysis, ABA

In recent posts I have talked about building behaviors from tiny seeds of potentially positive physical movements, and nurturing these new behaviors with lots of positive reinforcement. But, sometimes dark clouds roll in and the sunshine goes away. When we get overwhelmed or tired, it’s all too easy to fall into negative habits.



When things get bleak, positive reinforcement can go out the window

A few weeks ago I had a string of bad days – mostly being tired, stressed, and cranky. I had no patience with my son, and little things that normally would be easy to handle suddenly seemed impossible. I slipped into negative comments and negative behaviors towards him. I knew I should instead pick up the rate of positive reinforcement, but didn’t have the energy to do so.

Douglas saves the day!

Luckily, my son knew what to do. One day he pestered me and pestered me for a fruit roll-up (our perennial favorite treat). When I finally gave it to him, he slipped it into my pocket with a sharp look that said, “Here. You need this more than I do. Get busy and use this.” I laughed so hard that I felt better, and started tagging and treating again. Soon, balance was restored, energy revitalized, and positive practices were back in place. The dark clouds retreated.


autism, tagteach, applied behavior analysis, ABA


Plants seek the light, kids with autism seek success, TAGteach delivers both

autism, tagteach, applied behavior analysis

Plants grow towards the light. Why? So they can grow better, so that their cells produce more food for the plants to grow. This phenomenon is known as phototropism. Phototropism is so powerful that plants turn around completely to face the sun as the sun moves across the sky. Here is a cute 2-minute video  that shows phototropism in time-lapse photography.


Kids with autism need to grow too, but they need special help. They need help with understanding what to do, when to do it, and how long to do it. The best way for them to learn is with success. When they experience success, they turn towards the activities that deliver reinforcement, just as the plants turn toward the light.

Success is great

For all of us, the feeling of success makes us feel good; it gives us a sense of accomplishment. When a learning experience is successful, the learner feels confident in performing a task and is eager to do more. We all want our kids with autism to experience success, confidence and enthusiasm for learning. How best to achieve this? How can we deliver success to our kids? TAGteach is ideal for this. In addition to the event marker (the tag or “click”), TAGteach has other protocols that make sure kids have a successful learning experience. Here is one of them: Start at the Point of Success.

Start at the Point of Success

This means you start working with a child at the level she is already performing. Here’s an example. Let’s say you want to teach a child to do a learning project at the table (a puzzle or a stack of blocks). Perhaps this child is wandering around the room, and is not capable of such a structured activity. Rather than urging her to sit down, the first tag point I would set for this child for is Walks Past Table. The child is already moving around the room, but at some point she will walk past the table. At that split second, I would tag and reinforce her. She is nowhere near accomplishing the final goal of stacking blocks, but she is experiencing success near the table, so she spends more time there — she moves toward the reinforcement. First tag point accomplished with no stress for the child. The next important TAGteach protocol is to increase behavior by one small step at a time.

One Small Step at a Time

This child is now approaching the table more often, and as she does, she may actually look at the blocks. As soon as she performs Eyes On Blocks, I would tag and reinforce that great new behavior as often as she performs it. She will soon be spending more time near the table looking at blocks. After a while, she may swing a hand or arm near the blocks, so then I would tag and reinforce Hand/Arm Near Blocks. Now she is near the table, looking at the blocks, and perhaps thinking about picking one up. She’s almost ready to do the project, and she has learned all of these intermediate steps with success and reinforcement, no stress and no anxiety. The next tag points to reinforce lavishly would be Pick Up Block, Set Block On Pattern Page, and so forth.

The Child Responds to Positive Reinforcement

Just as plants turn to the light, this child’s experience of success and reinforcement turned her towards the table and the blocks. She followed the “light” of tags and reinforcement, and it gave her success and confidence. Soon she will be able to pick up a block and start learning new skills; with continued experiences of success, she will eagerly work with more blocks, and eventually transition to puzzles, shapes, numbers and letters. TAGteach is a gentle, reinforcement-based approach to breaking down tasks into small steps, and reinforcing each small step as the child performs it. The child experiences success and reinforcement, gains trust in her environment, and can learn and grow.

iclick circle







TAGteach: Building great behaviors from the smallest seeds

sowSince springtime is almost upon us, many people are thinking about their yards and gardens, and may even be starting seeds for flowers and vegetables. Seeds are amazing things. From these very tiny particles, large plants and trees will grow.

Our kids with autism don’t follow the typical growth process. With their communication, learning and sensory issues, they often display challenging, dysfunctional and disruptive behaviors. In fact, so many difficult behaviors may be going on at the same time that it may seem impossible to make headway on any front. But, in the midst of the behavioral chaos, a child with autism will, at some point, perform a behavior (physical movement) that can be the basis of more functional behaviors. These fleeting movements are “seeds” that can eventually grow into functional behaviors, provided they are nurtured and receive lots of positive reinforcement.

How can we increase the number of times our kids with autism perform such rare, but desired, physical movements? TAGteach!

TAGteach is a teaching and communication method that combines an audible marker, a “tag” (click) made by a small plastic device called a “tagger” with positive reinforcement. With a tagger you “mark” a desired physical movement performed by your child and then give her a treat (the reinforcer). Because the tag is so quick and immediate, you can pinpoint even the most fleeting movements for your child.

Children learn from success

Consistent tagging and treating of these momentary flashes of desired action tells your child, “YES! That’s right, keep it up! You’re learning! Now you’re going to get a treat!” Your child will use this valuable information to learn. She will think, “Hey, I’m going to do more of that behavior, because I get treats and attention from Mom when I do it.” The child will perform the desired behavior more often and for longer periods of time, and eventually, it will become a habit. From the tiny seed of a momentary flash of action you can build up a great behavior. Then you can start on the next behavior in the process.

How do you know where to start?

Do an assessment. Download the free Child Observation Sheet, observe your child for five minutes and makes notes of the physical movements she performs during that time. Study the list of movements. Are any of them functional? Could any of them be the basis for future more complex behaviors? Pick out two or three behaviors from the list and start tagging and treating your child whenever she performs them. If there are absolutely no potentially functional behaviors on your list, look at the list and think of the opposites of those behaviors. If your child screams a lot, Quiet Mouth or Good Sound/Word are useful tag points. If your child runs around a lot, Both Feet On Floor or Slow Steps are good behaviors to mark and reinforce. If your child is very withdrawn, tag and treat any physical movement such as Head Up, Looks At Mom/Dad/Brother/Cat, or even, Moves Arms/Legs. Think creatively about what you want your child to do, and see which behaviors she is already performing that can be part of that goal. Build those behaviors up to strong levels with tags and treats, then start tagging and treating new behaviors.

Watch new behaviors grow

A child with autism may seem totally chaotic and disruptive all the time, but if you take the time to observe closely, you can spot micro-seconds of potentially positive behaviors. These micro-seconds are like seeds. They can be nurtured and developed into behaviors that grow and flourish. If neglected, they will be lost in the maelstrom of behavioral chaos. Tag and reinforce your child, and watch the skills grow.autism, tagteach, applied behavior analysis, ABA



Behavior Basics 35 and 36: End of Week Wrap-up

autism tagteach behavior analsysi35. A conditioned reinforcer is something previously neutral that has gained reinforcing potential.

A conditioned reinforcer can be any quick sound or action. It can be a whistle, a tap, a flash of light, or a click sound made by a small plastic device called a “tagger.” Initially, the sound or flash has no significance for a child, but, by pairing the sound with a treat or other pleasing consequence, the “tag” (click sound) becomes an important event for the child. The tag means that a treat is coming. A tag means that the child did something right or achieved something. The tag is good news! The tag is worth paying attention to – this is very important. The tag teaches the child to focus on his own actions.  What was I just doing that caused Mom to tag and hand me a treat? Was it swinging my arm or looking at the toy?  Hmmm, I’ll try swinging my arm again. Nothing, no tag. Okay, I’ll trying looking at the toy again. TAG! Oh, that was it!  I get it. I’ll look at the toy some more! Boy, Mom sure seems happy when I look at a toy. I know she’s happy because she tagged and gave me a treat, and I’m happy too.

autism tagteach applied behavior analysis36.  Create a conditioned reinforcer by pairing it with something the child already likes.

How does the child learn that the acoustical signal, the “tag” (click sound) has meaning? You teach the child by “pairing” the tag with a treat. This can be achieved very quickly. When I first got a tagger, I sat down next to my son with a fruit roll-up and proceeded to tag and hand over slivers of fruit roll-up. It went like this: tag/hand over sliver, tag/hand over sliver, tag/hand over sliver, continuously. In 25 seconds he figured out that the tag meant that a treat was coming. 25 seconds! That’s all it took. I never had to repeat that lesson. I could immediately start using the tag to teach new skills. Try it! It’s great fun to teach a child with autism something in just 25 seconds!

REMINDER:  This concludes the wrap-up of Behavior Basics for the week.  Please remember the schedule: On the release date of each module, the Behavior Basics for that module will be compiled into a PDF ebook available from our blog and Facebook page. Click on this link to download the entire series of 42 Behavior Basics for free: http://statictab.com/m7bizwt.


The “invisible” environment of a child with autism: how TAGteach can change it into a “growth” environment

paesaggio fantasticoThe word “environment,” has been a top subject in the news for decades. We may think about the “environment” as forests, rivers and mountains, or, we may think about urban environments with streets, public squares and buildings. These are tangible, visible environments. But tangible objects are not the only features of an environment. The dictionary also defines the “environment” as “all the external factors influencing the life and activities of people, plants and animals.”  These factors are elements that cannot be seen, and include things like knowledge, resources or skills. For a child with autism, the most important environment is this “invisible” environment.

What is the “Invisible” Environment?

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 can help both the child with autism and the parents learn and gain important skills. A chaotic environment will help neither the child nor the parents, and may cause damage. TAGteach is a simple, easy and inexpensive way to add in those invisible factors so important for creating a scientifically-sound, supportive and positive learning environment.

Children with autism may display various challenging and dysfunctional behaviors.  It is hard for them to learn 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?

Parents Can Put Their Powerful Observational Skills To Excellent Use

By combining parents’ powerful observational skills with a 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. TAGteach makes it easy for parents or caregivers to reinforce desired behaviors accurately and often.

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Behavior Basics 33 and 34: End of Week Wrap-up

autism tagteach applied behavior analysis33. Slow reinforcement is ineffective for teaching a child, especially one with autism.

A child with autism lives in the moment. He is keenly aware of what is happening right now, and often, right now he has at least three or four behaviors (physical movements) going on simultaneously. Those movements change very quickly—every few seconds he’s doing other actions. Let’s say the child momentarily does one action that you wish to reinforce, so you run over and say, “Hey, good boy for doing that,” and hand out a treat. I timed myself walking a distance of 12 feet, saying, “Hey, good boy for doing that,” and handing over a treat. It took 4 seconds. In those 4 seconds, a child with autism has performed many more movements and is thinking about those new movements. The one you liked, that happened about 5 or 6 seconds ago, is history. So if you walk over to your child, praise him and hand over a treat, you are too slow and too late. The child won’t know what you reinforced. He won’t know what you want him to do again. Your reinforcement will be ineffective because it is not paired precisely with the desired behavior. Effective reinforcement is timely, on-time, and precise information. It tells the child, “That thing you are doing right now is great. Do it some more.” Our voices and words, of which we are so enamored, are slow, clumsy and too late to give exact, pinpoint information to the child. So, help the child out. Make sure that, during the time that he is doing a desired action, he gets the information, “YES. That’s right,” and now a treat is on the way. See Behavior Basic #34 for more information.

autism tagteach applied behavior analysis34. What’s the solution to late reinforcement? Use a conditioned reinforcer.

In Behavior Basic #33 we discussed the fact that a child with autism needs pinpoint accuracy of reinforcement in order to know that he should do a behavior again. We cannot provide such speedy, accurate reinforcement with our slow voices or confusing gestures. An excellent way to provide fast, timely information to the child is with an acoustical signal, a “tag,” or click-sound, made by a tagger. The best way to reinforce a child is when he is actually doing the behavior you want — to reinforce in that “right now” micro-second. How can you reinforce so quickly? With a TAGteach tagger. A tagger allows you to provide split-second information to the child while he is performing the desired behavior. So the procedure is: observe child, tag desired behavior, give treat. By following up each tag with a treat, the tag becomes a “conditioned reinforcer.” When the child hears the tag, he knows a treat is coming his way. Eventually, the sound of the tag is reinforcing in and of itself. He learns to listen for the tag, think about what he was doing that earned the tag, and then perform the behavior again—because it brought about a pleasant consequence. Precise, timely reinforcement builds behaviors faster. There is nothing else like it.

autism tagteach behavior analysisREMINDER:  This concludes the wrap-up of Behavior Basics for the week.  Please remember the schedule: On the release date of each module, the Behavior Basics for that module will be compiled into a PDF ebook available from our blog and Facebook page. Click on this link to download the entire series of 42 Behavior Basics for free: http://statictab.com/m7bizwt.


TAGteacher tale: Skill and faith – shaping behavior in a child with autism

scribblesBy Joan Orr MSc

There are two things that a TAGteacher needs to be successful. These are skill in applying the technology and faith in the technology. The skill comes from having a good understanding of the principles underlying the science of behavior, having a good understanding of the principles of TAGteach and lots of tagging practice. The faith comes from experience and seeing it work again and again and just knowing that it works.

Denise Blackman posted a story to the TAGteach Yahoo group that gives a perfect illustration of the combination of skill and faith resulting in a successful outcome.

Here is Denise’s post (reposted with permission):

I don’t normally post, but I had a fun experience today and want to share it.

I work as a consultant to a preschool program for children with autism. Yesterday we were discussing one of the kids, “Robert”, an almost 4-year-old boy who does not currently speak, make eye contact, imitate, play with others, or follow most directions.

One of the many things “Robert” is working on is writing. His writing goal is to draw a vertical line. Unfortunately he wasn’t making any progress on the goal. Rather than trying to copy the line, he just scribbled on the paper. We decided to try TAGteach with him.

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Behavior Basics 31 and 32: End of Week Wrap-up

behav basics 31 (2)31. The timing of the reinforcer tells the child what he did right.

We have talked about how children with autism may have many behaviors (physical movements) going on at the same time.  At some point, the child will perform a movement that you want to see happen more often.  When this one specific movement is happening–in the blur of many other movements–the only way to distinguish it from the blur of activity is with pinpoint timing.  With TAGteach you can pinpoint that micro-second of desired action by pressing the tagger, and then delivering the reinforcement as quickly as possible after that.  The child knows that the sound means that a treat is coming, so the child pays attention to what he or she does that causes the sound to happen.  The pinpoint timing of the tag (click sound) gives the child information about which specific movement is earning the reinforcement.  When the child with autism knows exactly which behavior is earning reinforcement, he or she will do that action more often.

behav basics 3232.  Late reinforcement is ineffective for teaching a child, especially one with autism.

Children with autism often perform many behaviors in quick succession and in changing sequences.  When they are performing behaviors (physical movements) so quickly, it is a challenge for us to tell them exactly which behavior we want, and it is a challenge for them to figure it out.  Generally, people use their voices to tell a child, “Good job,” or, “That’s it.”  The problem is that words come out of our mouths a second or two after the child does the behavior, plus the words themselves take one or two seconds to emerge: this means a three to five second delay in getting information to the child.  In that three to five second period, the child will have performed several other behaviors.  How can the child figure out, in his confusing world, what that praise was intended for, even assuming he can understand the words?  The information is too late to have meaning for him.  The late praise and even later delivery of reinforcement will slow down the child’s learning process.  Why create confusion and delay when we can provide real-time, split-second information?  Delay is the last thing a child with autism needs.  Fast timely action brings much better results.

REMINDER:  This concludes the wrap-up of Behavior Basics for the week.  Please remember the schedule: On the release date of each module, the Behavior Basics for that module will be compiled into a PDF ebook available from our blog and Facebook page. Click on this link to download the entire series of 42 Behavior Basics for free: http://statictab.com/m7bizwt.

TAGteach, a waiting game where both parties win!

autism tagteach applied behavior analysisIn a game, there is usually a winner and a loser. TAGteach involves waiting, but this waiting game ends up with two winners and no losers. Here’s how the TAGteach Waiting Game works:

TAGteach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) is a wonderful tool for teaching children with autism. It has many features that make it highly effective for this population. 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 is quick and requires no words, so the parent can reinforce a desired behavior more quickly and more often, and the child has more opportunities to learn. With TAGteach, the desired behavior is broken down into small parts so the child can learn one small step at a time. And finally, TAGteach is based on the principles of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis). The most important scientific law of ABA is that a behavior that is reinforced is a behavior that will occur again. By reinforcing appropriate, functional behaviors, you will teach a child to perform these behaviors more often and for longer periods of time.

First steps – assess and decide

The first step, when starting with TAGteach, is to assess your child. There is a free, downloadable Child Observation Chart on this website that you can use to make notes about your child’s behaviors (physical movements of the body). Five minutes of observation will give you an eye-opening description of your child’s behaviors. Whenever I do the observation with my child, I’m always surprised at the difference between what I think is going on and what is actually going on. Once you have a list of what the child is doing, you can decide which behaviors you would like to see more often. If the child storms about the house a lot, you probably would like him to walk slowly. If the child screams a lot, you probably would like more Quiet Mouth or Appropriate Vocalization behavior.

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