10 Pennies in Your Pocket . . . and autism?

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autism help, tagteach, ABA

Many autism parents, and I am among them, have beloved children who are severely challenged. Our kids often struggle with language, basic tasks, and difficult or disruptive behaviors. To make it worse, they do these behaviors all the time—they are not occasional events. What can you do?

The Challenge

Because these behaviors are so relentless, it can seem that our kids never do anything positive or productive. I used to go crazy at autism meetings with my big question, “How can I get my kid to stop Behavior X?” only to be told, “You have to reinforce other behaviors.” Inwardly I would fume, “My kid has no other behaviors!”

But … I was wrong. After a while, I noticed that my son occasionally had a flash of a clever or funny behavior. These were always short and almost never repeated, but they were there. It takes time and a persistent eye to spot these elusive moments, but it can be done. Here’s one way to spot them.

10 Pennies in Your Pocket

Put 10 pennies in your pocket, then go watch your child. Every time he or she does something–anything–that is positive, take a penny and throw it into a dish. You may see a flash of eye contact, a moment of connection, a careful glance at an item, or a clever action of some sort. If you can manage it, keep a notepad next to the dish and jot down what your child did. At the end of the day, count the pennies in the dish.

How many positive things did your child do today? The first day you may have only one penny, but the next day you many have two or even three in the dish. After a few days, you may have many more pennies in the dish. Congratulations! You are now a skilled observer of the potentially positive behaviors your child already has, plus, you are probably happier about what your child is doing.

What’s next – TAGteach!

If you look at your dish of pennies and the list of cute actions that your child did, you have the foundation for building up all kinds of new skills. With your trained eye, take a more comprehensive look at your child. On this blog is a Child Observation Chart. Fill it out and make notes of all the physical movements your child performs. Look carefully at the movements that can be the basis of functional skills (for example: eye contact, touching a toy, using a fork).

Select two or three of these movements, get a tagger and a handful of treats (reinforcers), and go back to watching your child. As soon as he performs one of these physical movements, press the tagger (“click”!) and hand over a treat. The tag (or “click”) is an “event marker.” It tells your child, “That movement you just made is great and you are going to get a treat.” Since you just reinforced this behavior, the child will perform it again. He will eventually perform it more often and for longer periods of time!

The Laws of Behavioral Science

Why does this happen? Because of the laws of behavioral science. Behavioral biologist Karen Pryor explains, “Behavior that is already occurring, no matter how sporadically, can always be intensified with positive reinforcement.” This is the wonderful law of behavioral science that enables us to increase positive physical movements, even if they are very rare. Don’t let those precious flashes go to waste — catch them and reinforce them!

autism help, tagteach, ABAGrowth and Learning

Now you have the tools and knowledge to help your child learn all kinds of helpful skills. What would you like your child to learn? You can use TAGteach to help your child with dressing, playing with toys, going out for walks, and feeling comfortable in new situations. Many people are using TAGteach in all kinds of applications and for all kinds of learners, from kids with autism to elite gymnasts to orthopedic surgeons.

Want more information? Go to the TAGteach website. Participate in the TAGteach listserve; ask questions and share information with both newcomers and experienced TAG users.

10 pennies in your pocket can be the beginning of an amazing and productive journey.

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.

autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcementJoin the free TAGteach listserve.

TAGteach taggers are available here.

See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism or ask a question (with no obligation).

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Martha Gabler

Autism parent. Director, Kids' Learning Workshop LLC. Author of Chaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism.

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