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
A 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).
3. Observe Your Child
Spend five minutes observing your child’s behavior. Use the Child Observation Chart and review it. Look at the physical movements your child is already doing, and decide which of those you would like to see more often. Select two or three of these movements as your first tag points.
Behavior is physical movement. Parents become empowered when they learn to think about behavior in terms of physical movements of the body, as opposed to emotional reactions or personal feelings.
4. Set Your First Tag Points
In Item 3 above you selected two or three physical movements to increase. When starting out with TAGteach, it is best to begin with something your child can already do because you want your child to experience success right away.
For example, you may have noticed that your child sometimes takes two steps in the same direction, looks at a toy, looks at you, touches a toy, sits on a chair, says a word or makes a sound. For the purposes of getting started, pick just one of these behaviors that you would like to see more of.
Don’t worry that you are starting out with something easy for the child. The purpose of this exercise is for the child to learn that the tag means success, and for the parent to get used to tagging on time and handing over reinforcers. Also, it’s helpful to strengthen and reinforce behaviors the child is already doing, because these behaviors will be the foundation for new skills. The goal here is to have success for you and your child, so there is no such thing as “too easy”!
The movement that you choose here is called a “tag point”. It is the one exact behavior that will win your child a tag and treat. You can say to yourself, “The tag point is…[the behavior],” to remind yourself of what you are looking for. If your child is verbal, say to the child, “The tag point is look at me,” (or whatever your tag point is). Your child will not understand the meaning of the words at first, but he will catch on quickly!
5. Start Tagging and Reinforcing
Stand back and observe your child. Look at how he is moving his arms, legs, head, torso and mouth. Focus on the smallest possible muscle movement. Now, see if you can spot a split second of the desired behavior. When you see such a split second, immediately press the tagger (click your pen/flashlight or tap the spoon), and quickly hand your child a treat. Repeat this process as often as possible. That’s all! Continue tagging and reinforcing every time the child performs the behavior.
Some people like to tag throughout the day, others like to do several short sessions. Either way is fine. When you tag and reinforce desired behaviors, your child will do these behaviors more often. You are on your way to increasing and building new skills.
When your child is consistently performing the physical movement you selected above, you can move on to other tag points. Look at the behavior you would like your child to learn and develop tag points to teach that skill.
An easy first tag point for a verbal child is simply “say please” to ask for the reinforcer. The tag point is “say please”. The child says “please may I have a treat”, you tag and give him one. Here is a video that illustrates a first tag session using this tag point.
There are many articles on the Chaos to Calm blog that will give you ideas for tag points for common challenges for children with autism. Topics covered include: Tantrums, Screaming/Verbal Stimming, Safe Walking, Safe Car Trip Behavior, Going to the Grocery Store, and Anxiety.
6. Lingering Thoughts, Questions, Obstacles? Just ask.
You may have lingering thoughts or questions after reading this article. You may feel that there are obstacles to getting started with TAGteach, or you may wish to have more information. If so, please contact me via the Chaos to Calm blog, and I will do my best to answer your questions.
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