Alone in the woods with autism, SIB and … thankfully TAGteach

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Alone in the woods

TAGteach is a wonderful way to handle behavior challenges that pop up unexpectedly. Recently I took my 19-year-old nonverbal son with severe autism for a hike on a rugged circuit trail in a local forest preserve. My son is an experienced hiker and loves to walk long distances.

Autism parent help, ABA, TAGteachTrouble started almost immediately

For whatever reason, he started displaying SIB (Self Injurious Behavior): head hitting, knee thumping, and hand biting. It was perplexing. He was not having a tantrum. He was not having a meltdown. He was neither angry nor upset.

What to do?

I pulled out my trusty tagger and started reinforcing him for Quiet Mouth–to address his vocal outbursts, and Hands By Side–to address the self-injurious behavior. We walked on. My son is much bigger and stronger than I am, so there is no way that I could have used any kind of restraint or physical force to stop him from hurting himself.

Progress, then extinction burst, then success!

After one-third of a mile and continuous tagging of these two tag points, the SIB and inappropriate vocalization decreased. Around the half-mile point I noticed all the undesired behaviors increasing — whoa — what was that? Ah yes, the extinction burst, that point where, just before behaviors decrease, there is a brief uptick. Whew, just had to wait that out. Kept tagging and then ….

After two-thirds of a mile the undesired behaviors diminished  even more. After one mile he was smiling, turning to me, and saying “love you.” The smiles and “love you’s” continued for the rest of the hike and we were both finally able to relax.

autism parent help, TAGteachThe hike ended with good feelings for both of us. We enjoyed the trees and creeks. We had a nice time being out in nature.

My TAGteach tagger and a favorite treat saved the day.

Thank you, behavioral science!

Thank you, positive reinforcement!

Thank you, TAGteach!


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.

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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