In addition to timely and effective reinforcement, it is also important to think about the details of a task, and how to set tag points. This post will address both of these issues.
A task analysis describes the many small steps that go into performing a single activity. For example, we often tell children to “wash your hands” when they come home from school. It seems simple to us. For a child with autism, it can be a complex task. The child has to:
- take off a coat
- hang it up
- walk to the bathroom
- open the door
- go to the sink
- stand still
- turn on the faucet
- grasp a bar of soap (or hold one hand under the nozzle of a soap dispenser while pushing down on the pump with the other hand)
- place hands under the water flow
- rub the slippery soap over his hands
- continue holding his hands under the water flow until the soap is rinsed off
- turn off the faucet (with wet hands)
- reach for and grasp a towel
- rub the towel over his hands
- replace the towel on the towel rod
- walk out of the bathroom
This everyday task has at least sixteen steps involving the legs, torso, arms and hands! There could be many more steps if you were to break it down even further.
An easy way to do a task analysis is to do it yourself. Go through all the motions of the task and write them down–in detail. You may be surprised at how many movements you have to make, and how many body parts are involved, to accomplish a simple chore.
When you have this information, you will be able to see at a glance which components of the task your child can already do, and which you will have to teach. If your child has difficulty with any of the steps, then you will need to teach these specifically and you may even have to break problem areas down into additional smaller tasks.
To teach each component, you will set tag points, so let’s review tag points.
The “tag point” is the absolute part of a behavior that — when performed — will receive the audible mark (tag). A tag point has four criteria. They are:
- What you want (the goal stated in positive terms)
- One criterion (yes or no answer as to whether the child succeeded)
- Observable (you must be able to see easily if the tag point as met)
- Five words or less (say “The tag point is… [then max 5 more words]”)
For example, in the hand washing example above, your child may have to learn how to use the soap dispenser. Your first goal may be to have the child learn to push down on the pump. Your first tag point might be: Flat Hand Touches Pump. Let’s review this tag point in terms of the four criteria mentioned above.
- What you want: Child’s hand touches the soap pump
- One criterion? Yes, the tag point is Flat Hand Touches Pump
- Observable and definable? Yes, you can see when the child’s flat hand touches the pump.
- Five words or less? Yes, Flat Hand Touches Pump is four words.
With this tag point, you can demonstrate for the child — show how you hold your hand flat and touch it to the pump. You may demonstrate a few times, while tagging yourself, then ask the child to copy your action. If your child is capable of using the clicker (tagger) have him tag you at first. This is fun for the child and also lets you know for sure that he understands what the correct action is. As soon as the child’s flat hand touches the pump, tag and reinforce!
However, what if you have a problem? What if the child struggles with this seemingly simple action? If this is the case, remember the TAGteach Three Try Rule.
Three Try Rule
The Three Try Rule says that if a child cannot perform the tag point within three trials, the parent/instructor must stop and reassess. Let’s say the child can’t do the Flat Hand Touches Pump tag point. There are several ways to backtrack and try for a simpler action.
The child may have to practice holding his hand flat. In this case, a revised tag point could be: Hand Flat. Let the child practice holding his hand flat until that movement is comfortable for him. Tag and reinforce each successful attempt. If the child becomes fatigued or stressed, stop and take a break. (It’s always best to stop at the first sign of fatigue or distress. The child will appreciate it, and will develop trust that his learning situation will always be supportive.)
The child may have problems targeting his hand to the top of the soap pump. In that case, the tag point could be revised to: Touch Pump (with no requirements to hold his hand flat). Perhaps it would help to put a bright sticker on top of the soap pump to make it more visible. You could also put a dot with a marker on the part of the hand that is to touch the sticker to give the child visible cues. This is a time to experiment to see what helps the child. When the child can hold his hand flat and touch the pump, the next step to teach would be to push down on the pump, and so on. You may even have to work on “push” as a separate exercise. Backtrack as far as you need to so as to make it easy for the child to succeed.
Try, Observe, Modify if Necessary
Careful task analysis and precise tag points will move the learning process along quickly and smoothly.
To review, do a task yourself and write down each step and physical movement in the process. See what your child can already do. Set tag points for the steps your child needs to learn. Use the four tag point criteria to set a single muscle movement as the tag point. Demonstrate and model the action for the child. Tag and reinforce the child for correct responses. If the child cannot manage the tag point after three trials, stop, reassess, and develop a simpler tag point. Tag and reinforce the child for that action, move up to the next step when the child has mastered the previous step.
The Chaos to Calm blog has many articles suggesting tag points for various skills and behavior situations.
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 (and adults) can learn many new skills with TAGteach — at their own pace.
For more information visit the TAGteach website.
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TAGteach taggers are available here.
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