Alone in the woods with autism again, this time with finger-licking, face-rubbing, and, thankfully, TAGteach

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TAGteach is really a wonderful way to deal with difficult behaviors that can pop up when you least expect it.

A damaging behavior appears

Last fall I took my son out for a hike in a beautiful park with a trail around a small lake. We were having a nice time when I noticed with dismay that he was licking his fingers and rubbing his chin and neck, although there was no apparent medical problem.

A vicious cycle

These behaviors are disastrous for my son because when he starts, he can’t stop. Plus, he irritates his skin, then licks and rubs again because it feels itchy and irritated. He ends up with raw, painful skin that is difficult to treat because he doesn’t like ointments or lotions on his face. It’s a vicious cycle and I couldn’t allow it to continue.

Putting TAGteach to work

I knew instantly how to address this with TAGteach: I would tag and reinforce Hands Down. I had great success with this tag point a few weeks earlier when my son had an outburst of self-injurious behavior during a similar walk.

During that incident, I was able to walk next to him, observe when he had his Hands Down, and immediately tag and reinforce him. The behavior was over within the first mile.

Rough terrain

The problem here was that we were in a rugged section of the park where I couldn’t walk next to him. We were working our way down a steep hill on a rocky trail hemmed in by thick shrubbery. There was simply no room.

I decided to walk ahead of him, count ten steps and look back at him. If his hands were down, I would tag and treat (the reinforcer was a fruit roll-up). If they were not down, I would continue another ten steps down and look back again.

Looking for Hands Down every 10 steps

So off we went. Ten steps. Look back. Tag and treat (or not). Ten steps. Look back. Ten steps. Ten steps. Ten steps. Every time his hands were down, I tagged and reinforced.


Autism help, autism parent, ABA, TAgteach


Would you believe that by the time we were at the bottom of the hill, a distance of merely 300 yards, his hands were down and he was smiling happily? The finger-licking and face-rubbing behaviors were gone. Over. Done with.

Mission accomplished! And more…

I continued tagging and reinforcing Hands Down behavior, but decided to “change the schedule.” Instead of tagging every ten steps, I tagged after 13 steps, 15 steps, or 20 steps.

Well, he would have none of it! After ten steps he moved in front of me with his hands folded and indicated that he wanted me to tag and reinforce him.

Our super-sensitive kids!

In that short time, he had calculated that I was reinforcing every ten steps and, by golly, he wanted that to continue. It shows how sensitive and smart our kids are. He figured this out in a distance of 300 yards. He knew that it was every ten steps. Then he decided it should continue to be every ten steps.

Autism help, Autism parent, ABA, TAGteachWhat a cutie! I burst out laughing, gave him a big hug, and continued with the ten steps schedule until I ran out of treats. He was fine. We finished our hike in great spirits.

Once again I was in awe of how quickly this simple intervention, tag and reinforce, stopped a damaging behavior in such a short time, and with no force, coercion or punishment. In fact, he ended up in a happier frame of mind than when he started. TAGteach to the rescue again!

Our super-sensitive kids know exactly when they are being reinforced and exactly what they are being reinforced for. They are smart, they can figure it out, and they enjoy it.

TAGteach is great. Don’t leave home without it!

A final comment

One of the best parts of using TAGteach, for me, is that I can relax. Even if a difficult behavior is happening, I can relax. I’ve had so much experience with TAGteach that I know it works. I know it just takes a little time and effort and the bad things go away. I was able to enjoy this hike, even when my son was rubbing his neck raw, because I knew it would stop. TAGteach helps me as much as it helps my son.

Autism help, autism parent, ABA, TAGteachWhat 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, 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.

For more information visit the TAGteach website.

Join the free TAGteach Yahoo Group.

TAGteach taggers are 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!

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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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