The difficult car trip: Some suggestions for addressing a common problem for autism parents

four kids in a car in bright clothes with seat belts on, smiling and happy

Recently, a person sent a query asking what to do about a child who has severe anxiety when riding in the car.

Good car behavior is critical for the well-being of the family. It is worth the time and effort to teach the child how to behave properly in the car and to feel calm and happy when riding in the car. TAGteach is an excellent and easy way to build these skills in small increments. With TAGteach, you “tag” a desired behavior of the child with an event marker signal (often a clicker) and then “reinforce” (give a treat of the child’s liking). TAGteach allows the child to experience success for very small behaviors that eventually add up to a strong, complex behavior.

First small step: show that the car is not harmful

Instead of taking an anxious child out in the car, start by showing the child that the car is just an object on the driveway. Park the car on the driveway and tag and reinforce the child every time he looks at or walks near the car. Here are some potential movements to tag: Child walks next to car, Tag and Reinforce. Child stands next to car, Tag and Reinforce. Child touches or opens car door, Tag and Reinforce. Child walks to another door, Tag and Reinforce. Child touches or opens another door, Tag and Reinforce. Child glances inside car, Tag and Reinforce. Give the child as much time as he needs to become comfortable around the exterior of the car. Spend a few minutes several times a day working around the exterior of the car.

Second small step: child gets into car

Once the child is comfortable around the exterior of the car, work on making the child comfortable in the interior. Bring the child to the car and open the doors. Place toys and some lollipops on the seats. Wait to see if the child goes into the car. Tag and reinforce all physical movements related to getting into the car: potential tag points are Hand On Car, Foot On Car Step, Head Poking In Car, Climbing Into Car. Let the child explore at his own pace; refrain from urging him to go into the car. Let him take his time.

When it finally happens and the child gets in the car, tag and reinforce! This should earn a huge reinforcer! Keep practicing Child Gets In Car until he is comfortable. Continue observing the child and tag and reinforce every time he sits on the seat; this would earn another huge reinforcer! Keep practicing Child Sits In Seat and tag and reinforce the child every time he does it. Offer toys or activity items to the child and tag and reinforce every time he touches an item; the tag point would be Touch Toy.

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Will I be treating my child like a dog if I use TAGteach?

dogsThis is a fair question. On the surface, Teaching with Acoustical Guidance (TAGteach), a method where you use an audible event marker signal (a click) and a reinforcer to teach a human a behavior, sounds very similar to the popular and effective clicker training method used with dogs, dolphins, killer whales and other animals. From a scientific and technical standpoint, the methods are similar.

Both methods are based on the scientific, research-validated fact that a behavior that is reinforced will occur more often. TAGteach has been used successfully in many teaching and training applications with humans, including elite level gymnastics, orthopedic surgeons, fishing boats in the Bering Sea, speech therapy, professional golf instruction, main stream classrooms and special education classrooms, among others. Turns out, TAGteach is also a wonderful way to teach kids with autism.

The TAGteach work with orthopedic surgeons was featured in the Scientific American blog and published in a major orthopedic surgery journal. In other published studies TAGteach was found to be effective for teaching adult golf, high school football players and children with autism.

TAGteach is recommended by many leading experts as an effective and science-based approach for teaching children with autism. TAGteach research results have been presented at the Association for Behavior Analysis conferences 48 times between 2004-2016.

Typical kids

Parents of typically developing children can teach their children with verbal instructions and modeling:  “Put your socks on first, then your shoes,” “This is how you slice a sandwich.”  These children watch, listen, copy and learn. They understand language, they speak, and they respond to verbal praise. It’s wonderful and magical to see how much they can learn at an early age.

Kids with autism

Our kids with autism are different. They have language, communication, and sensory problems, to name a few. Even those children who can speak, often do not comprehend instructions, or they cannot respond appropriately to the instructions. (more…)

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

Would you like to help your child with autism calm down when he or she becomes upset? Here is a great way to help your child get to a calm state of mind and body.

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? 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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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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Autism, the coughing stim, and TAGteach

Children who cough. White isolated studio shots.

 

Recently my son with autism had a bad flu that lasted for ten days. As his illness unfolded, he developed a deep cough.

Initially, a sick child coughs because of the irritation. However, as many autism families have experienced, a deep cough can turn into an unpleasant self-stimulatory behavior.

Problems of the coughing stim

If this problem develops, you have a situation where the child may walk up to people and cough loudly into their faces or ears, or may cough over someone’s dinner or the produce aisle at the grocery store. It’s unsanitary and stressful for all concerned.

When my son’s cough developed I decided to take action to prevent the possibility of it turning into a stim. With TAGteach I had success in one day.

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