Autism, the coughing stim, and TAGteach

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Children who cough. White isolated studio shots.


Recently my son with autism had a bad flu that lasted for ten days. As his illness unfolded, he developed a deep cough.

Initially, a sick child coughs because of the irritation. However, as many autism families have experienced, a deep cough can turn into an unpleasant self-stimulatory behavior.

Problems of the coughing stim

If this problem develops, you have a situation where the child may walk up to people and cough loudly into their faces or ears, or may cough over someone’s dinner or the produce aisle at the grocery store. It’s unsanitary and stressful for all concerned.

When my son’s cough developed I decided to take action to prevent the possibility of it turning into a stim. With TAGteach I had success in one day.

My son was spending his days in bed because he was too sick to be up, yet he was coughing loudly. Knowing this was going to be a lengthy project, I pulled up to the foot of his bed with a comfortable chair and a good book, and sat back to observe.

His bouts of coughing had this pattern: first a pause during which he raised his head slightly, then cough-cough, pause, cough-cough-cough, pause, cough, or CC-P-CCC-P-C.

TAGteach in Action

I set the tag point of Quiet Mouth.

As soon as he raised his head slightly and was not yet coughing I tagged that split second of Quiet Mouth. Then I tagged the interim micro-seconds of pause (Quiet Mouth) between the coughs. When the coughing episode ended I tagged Quiet Mouth again. It was tricky to tag the extraordinarily short pauses between the coughs, but I did my best to hit them exactly. The reinforcer was simple: a gentle pat on his foot.

For each coughing episode I was able to tag Quiet Mouth four times (on average). Within an hour, the last part of the pattern, the final cough was gone, so the pattern shortened to cough-cough, pause, cough-cough-cough, or CC-P-CCC. By early evening, the pattern shortened again to cough-cough, pause, cough-cough, or CC-P-CC.

I started at mid-day and continued through the evening. At bed time, I gave him cough suppressant so he could sleep through the night.

TAGteach Success

The next day was amazing: he coughed a few times, and that was it! The coughing was over! Best of all, our worries about a potential coughing stim were over too.

Once again, I was astounded by the power of TAGteach to change this behavior. This is why I recommend TAGteach to parents for consideration in supporting their children with autism!

autism coughing ABA 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, 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.

To learn more about this effective, low-cost method visit TAGteach International or Chaos to Calm

Join the free TAGteach for Learning, Behavior, and Autism Facebook group

TAGteach taggers available here and i-Clicks available here

See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism or feel free to ask me 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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