I am a co-founder of TAGteach International and co-founder of non-profit Doggone Safe. I am co-owner of Doggone Crazy!, which produces the Doggone Crazy! board game, the Be a Tree teacher kit, the Clicker Puppy training DVD and several ebooks. I am co-author with Teresa Lewin of the book: Getting Started Clicker Training with Your Rabbit. I was a member of the faculty of the Karen Pryor Clicker Training Clicker Expo for 9 years and was a consultant and content creator for the Karen Pryor Academy for Dog Trainers.
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)
Check out the latest in our Interview with a TAGteacher series. This time we talked to Mary Handley, a school-based occupational therapist who is working with a 3rd grader to improve his handwriting. Noah’s handwriting skills were not functional and this was affecting his grades and his attitude at school. Mary explains with several video examples how she helped Noah to improve significantly in just four sessions using TAGteach applied with her usual method of teaching.
How do you feel when you try something and make mistakes over and over? How do you feel when it seems that you are disappointing the person trying to teach you? Do you feel energized and excited to be “learning from your mistakes” or do you feel frustrated and discouraged? For most people and especially kids with autism, repeated failure and “just one more’s” make them anxious, frustrated and wanting to escape to do something less stressful. Sometimes the result of too much pressure to try something too hard results in a full-on meltdown. Once this happens, there is no more learning.
This is why we suggest the three try rule. If a learner fails three times (or fewer) to meet the specific learning goal (the tag point), go to a past point of success and move forward in smaller increments. A point of success is something earlier in the learning process that you are 100% sure the learner can get right. By starting at a point of success and moving forward in small steps you build on existing success instead of searching blindly for a good starting point. Of course the ‘three try rule’ isn’t really a rule. The learner doesn’t HAVE to fail three times. If it is clear the learner will not likely achieve the tag point criterion after the first failure, or the learner is very sensitive to failure, jump right in and clarify or break the skill down further and change the tag point.
In honor of the United Nations World Autism Day, the Kindle version of the book Chaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism is FREE in the Amazon Kindle store from April 3-6, 2016.
Please tell an autism parent about this. Change a life!
If you are outside the US and you don’t have an Amazon.com account, you can get the book at your own country’s Amazon site. Search Google for Amazon + [name of your country].
If you get your free copy of the book, please help us out by writing a review on Amazon.
“This remarkable book is something that any ABA person would be proud to offer parents. TAGteach has an important future in the treatment of autism and other developmental delays and this parent has shown the way. I will be recommending the book to both parents and ABA therapists.” Joseph Morrow, PhD, BCBA-D President, Applied Behavior Consultants
Professor of Psychology and Behavior Analysis (Emeritus) California State University, Sacramento Licensed Psychologist, State of California
“I am on the Autism Spectrum. I’m both high and low functioning but have achieved a level of integration in neurotypical society because of my higher functioning attributes. It has been a difficult path to walk alone though. If TAGteach had been around when I was a child I am one hundred percent sure I would have a had an even more successful, less frustrating, anxiety ridden childhood and been a higher achiever than I currently am.” Katie Scott-Dyer
“I completely enjoyed this book. It was an engaging and easy read with the appropriate amount of personal testimonial and practical generalization. I wish I could have read it years ago. Parents and practitioners alike will benefit from reading this book regardless if your child is high functioning or severe. After reading, you’ll know that all those other books you read on autism, sensory processing disorder, auditory processing disorder, apraxia, etc. were mostly a big waste of time and money. Don’t let your child’s doctor or other professional convince you that nothing can be done. It’s not true and this book proves it.” Aimee Taylor – Autism Parent
Chaos to Calm describes how Martha Gabler discovered that effective solutions really did exist for the overwhelming behavior problems of her own son with profoundly nonverbal, severe autism.
Here are some of the things Martha explains in this book:
How to observe your child
How to use positive reinforcement to shape simple behaviors
How to notice even tiny moments of desirable behavior
How to break behaviors into tiny pieces
How to add simple behaviors together to build complex behaviors
How to communicate to the child “Yes!” without using words
How to organize the child’s environment to maximize success
How to arrange the day’s activities for maximum success
How to stop tantrums, aggressive, destructive and self-injurious behaviors
How to teach the child to go to bed, stay there and sleep
How to manage and teach without force, threats or coercion
When Doug turned five, Martha realized that she and her family were basically on their own. During the “dreadful early years,” Doug’s behavior worsened and worsened. The family floundered. Daily, if not hourly or even more often, there were screaming, tantrums, self-stimulatory “verbal stimming,” running off, and even violent, self-injurious and destructive actions. The Gablers were exhausted beyond description by lack of community understanding, by lack of help that they could afford, and perhaps worst of all, by night after night of severe sleep deprivation.
A chance reference in an email listserve lead Martha to TAGteach, a teaching system based on the structured delivery of positive reinforcement. TAGteach gave Martha the tools she needed to observe Doug’s behaviors, break them down into manageable pieces, and reinforce his previously-rare positive actions – in fact, positive actions that sometimes lasted only a few seconds in the beginning, but which gave Martha the precious key she needed to unlock major improvements. With a few basic rules and a commitment to practice them, Martha was able to apply step-by-step solutions to Doug’s disruptive behaviors. In TAGteach, Martha found a powerful supplement to other scientifically-based behavioral interventions, many of which required difficult-to-find behavioral experts whose costs would have taxed the family’s financial resources in the extreme
The result? A boy who was once wild and chaotic now has the skills that enable him to be a charming teenager who loves life and enjoys going places.
This book explains, step-by-step, how Martha taught Doug to vocalize appropriately, go on walks, wait in line, go to the grocery store, ride a bike and many more skills that are normally taken for granted, but for a child with autism, they do not come easily if at all. Perhaps the most important skill was how to lie quietly in bed and go to sleep, so the other exhausted members of the Gabler family could themselves get some badly-needed sleep. Martha uses simple language and engaging prose to explain how she achieved all this. The book is in turn heartbreaking, humorous and brutally honest.
Every autism family seeks the light in an ocean of despair. Every autism mom, every autism dad, in fact every person who loves another person with autism, can use TAGteach with ease. This book shows you how.
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 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.
TAGteach in Action
Watch this video that shows TAGteach in action in an autism school setting. This approach is unique in that it allows the child to “be the teacher”. The child gets to be the teacher before he takes his turn to try the new skill. This is fun, gives him control over his own learning and lets the teacher know for sure that he understands the skill before he tries it himself. One of the critical features of the TAGteach approach is that only one aspect of a skill is worked on at a time. There is no error correction by the teacher. If the child makes a mistake, it is up to him to self assess or try again. There is also no physical prompting, nagging, coercion, cheerleading or verbal coaching in TAGteach.
In this example the teacher gives two tag points, with five tags for each. The first tag point is “paper in lines” so that the child will know how to position the paper for printing. The second tag point is “hand on paper” so that he learns to hold the paper still with his other hand. Notice that even when the tag point changes to “hand on paper”, the child still remembers and tries to position the paper properly.
Have you wondered how to apply TAGteach in a group sports setting with special needs kids? Will it be too noisy for the learner to hear the tags? Will the learner be too distracted by everything else going on the room? How do you handle the reinforcers? Can you use TAGteach to manage behavior and social issues? Do coaches really think that kids taught with TAGteach learn better? Listen to this month’s interview with a TAGteacher and watch the accompanying videos to get answers to these and more questions.
This month, Martha Gabler interviewed TAGteacher Joey Iversen (in red shirt above). Joey is a Level 2 TAGteacher with extensive experience from both ends of the tagger. Joey has trained several tennis coaches to use TAGteach during her own lessons because she wants to learn in the most efficient way possible. Joey has also been working with a special needs tennis program and successfully integrated TAGteach into the teaching protocols.
Martha had questions for Joey on the following topics:
How did you get started with TAGteach?
What was the one feature that really “pulled” you in?
Where did you first start using TAGteach?
Tell us about TAGteach and tennis for special needs kids
How did the coaches react?
What were their positive comments?
Where there any negative reactions?
Joey referred to a couple of videos and these are shown lower down in this post so that you can watch them after you listen to the interview.
This video shows a tennis lesson in which the tag point is “step forward”. The player is focusing on stepping forward with her right foot after hitting the ball.
This video shows a group tennis lesson. Three players are hitting the ball and the other three are tagging. This means that everyone is participating, focusing on one thing and learning, even when it’s not their turn to play.
As part of our online course: TAGteach for Autism, we are holding monthly live Q&A sessions with author and mother of a child with autism, Martha Gabler. A feature of these Q&A sessions is an interview with a TAGteacher. We will be posting the interview section in our blog each month for you to view for free. The full Q&A session will be available for purchase.
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Have you wondered how to apply TAGteach in a classroom setting? Will it be too noisy for the learner to hear the tags? Will the learner be too distracted by everything else going on the room? Will you need to give too many food reinforcers? Can you use TAGteach to manage aggressive and dangerous behaviors? Is it OK to let the child use the tagger and be the teacher? Listen to this month’s interview with a TAGteacher and watch the accompanying videos to get answers to these and more questions.
This month’s interview is with Anne Wormald. Anne is one of the first TAGteachers and has extensive experience from both ends of the tagger, being the daughter of Joan Orr, one of the TAGteach cofounders. Anne is working on her BCBA and is a Level 2 TAGteacher. She has many years of experience working with special needs kids and at the moment is working in home and school settings with children with autism.
This is actually fun to do. I found that one way to help my son with autism calm down was to reward him for breathing. You heard that right: I reward my child for breathing. I’ll show you how this works as part of a calm-down technique.
You can try it too, and when your friends are sitting around talking about the latest lame brain parenting ideas, you can tell them about this one. And, before slap their foreheads and moan that this idea has to be the ultimate candidate for the Lame Brain Parenting Hall of Fame, tell them the reason.
On the surface, the idea of rewarding a kid for breathing seems preposterous. But let’s look at how important breathing is. Descriptions of breathing tell us a great deal about the emotional state of a person, for example: panicky breaths, labored breathing, gasping for air, or holding one’s breath with suspense. A sigh can be a sigh of relief, a sigh of grief, or a sigh of resignation.
And what do people who attend meditation and yoga classes learn to do? They learn to control and regulate their breathing to achieve a calm emotional state and reduce stress.
Kids with autism often agitated
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.
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.
Spontaneous brain activity formerly thought to be “white noise” measurably changes after a person learns a new task, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Chieti, Italy, [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106:17558-17563].
Scientists also report that the degree of change reflects how well subjects have learned to perform the task.
“Recent studies have shown that in the absence of any overt behavior, and even during sleep or anesthesia, the brain’s spontaneous activity is not random, but organized in patterns of correlated activity that occur in anatomically and functionally connected regions,” stated senior author Maurizio Corbetta, MD, Norman J. Stupp Professor of Neurology. “The reasons behind the spontaneous activity patterns remain mysterious, but we have now shown that learning causes small changes in those patterns, and that these changes are behaviorally important.”