A River of Reinforcement and Smooth Sailing: TAGteach for Autism

Spread the love

Many of us as children played with sticks and homemade toy boats in streams or rivulets at the beach. How did we get those tippy little boats to sail downstream? We placed them in the middle of the stream where the water was deepest and flowed most strongly. Now, think about our kids with autism. We use positive reinforcement to increase functional skills, but how much reinforcement? I learned the answer from my son: a river of reinforcement.

autism help tagteach, applied behavior analysis, ABA, tag point

Create a river that flows

Positive reinforcement is best when it is like a stream that can propel a twig or toy boat. The twig follows the stream just fine when the flow is deep and strong, but what happens when the stream dries up? There is no forward movement. The toy boat gets stuck and keels over. If we want the boat to move, the water has to be deep and flowing.

A strong flow supports learning

Let’s say a young girl is learning to pick up blocks and place them on a mat (with the eventual goal of stacking blocks and following block patterns). The tag point is Block On Mat. As soon as she places the block on the mat you would tag and treat. As she picks up speed with this skill, you can tag, tag, tag quickly for each block as it hits the mat. You can tag her literally almost every few seconds. Think of what she is experiencing: a flow of success and reinforcement that is supporting her every action. The flow gives her confidence, success, affirmation, and some very nice treats. She won’t falter, she’ll keep sailing along.

Change the flow

Want her to learn something else? Change the flow. She’s mastered the skill of placing blocks on the mat, so now you want her to learn to place a block on a square. You set out a new mat with a few big squares on it, and establish a new tag point: Block On Square. Now you tag and treat every time she places a block on a square, and you ignore blocks that are not placed on a square. Give her the same powerful flow of reinforcement for correct responses, and she will learn the new skill.

autism help, tagteach, applied behavior analysis, ABA, tag pointLet your child drift down a river of reinforcement

Just as a smoothly flowing river supports boats and allows them to move, so a strong flow of reinforcement can support a child with autism who needs to learn functional skills. Keep the reinforcement flowing, tag accurately and often, and watch your child move along. That is smooth sailing!

TAGteach Principles and Tag Points: A Quick Review

Let’s take a moment to review TAGteach and tag points. TAGteach Basic Principles explains, “Clarity and simplicity are key aspects of TAGteach. A tag point is defined so that the Instructor can easily judge whether the tag point is achieved and can mark it with a tag. Tag Point Criteria: A tag point must satisfy the following criteria … : What you want (phrase in the positive). One thing (the word “and” will never appear in a tag point). Observable/Measurable (you must be able to judge the completion clearly). Five words or less. Ignore Errors and Try Again.” See also the TAGteach International Glossary of TAGteach Terms and Phrases. 

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 reinforcementFor more information visit the TAGteach website.

Join the free TAGteach Listserve.

TAGteach taggers are available here.

See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism.

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 on social media via the vertical gray menu bar on the far right. Thank you!

Spread the love

Martha Gabler

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.