Helping Sonny Learn to Love those Loud Squawking Flamingos!

Child Highly Sensitive to Noise

Many children with special needs have a hard time coping with loud unpredictable sounds. The family featured here taught their child to cope with certain sounds that bothered him. This story comes to us courtesy of Sarah M., a dedicated mom, special needs advocate, and talented glass artist in the UK. Sarah and her husband have two sons, the younger of whom has developmental challenges.

Sarah describes how they helped their younger boy, Sonny, overcome his painful reactions to noise, especially the random and sharp sounds made by animals. She helped him get used to these noises, made sure he had nice experiences while hearing the noises, and used TAGteach. The family’s goal was to be able to enjoy trips to the zoo.

Sarah’s Success Story:

We found that although our son loves animals, their noises startle and upset him, and this causes him to bite himself or others. It is heartbreaking to see him hurt himself like that.

Eating ice cream while listening to animal noises

Helping Him Become Accustomed to The Sounds

Working with an iPad and some animal noise apps, we played them on a low volume and simply tagged whenever Sonny demonstrated any reaction that was not fear or aggression. The tag point was: Neutral Reaction.

We slowly raised the volume over time. We played the app when he was eating ice-cream to help him feel happy while listening to the animal sounds. When we made it louder we noticed he would startle but not react so much.

A Clever Reward from Mom

One time I tagged for Neutral Reaction and the reward was for me to say, “OH! THAT MADE ME JUMP!” I immediately pretended to jump and then laughed. He thought that was hilarious! So although his eyes still often flinch and he will put his hands to his ears to regulate the noise himself, he was often laughing instead of getting upset.


Sonny enjoying the squawking flamingos


The last time we went to see the flamingos I warned him so he knew what was coming. I said, “Shall we see the flamingoes? What noise do they make? SQUAWK!!” Then I made a jump and a laugh. He just strolled on in there of his own accord and simply enjoyed watching them. Result? What was a source of upset is now pretty funny!

Closing Comment

Using the noise app was really helpful because we could take it really slowly and really see where that threshold was. The process really wasn’t taxing or complicated or took that much time. Just a little and often! It was mostly dealing with the fear reaction and the result of biting that was the problem.

I’ve also made huge progress in decreasing the noise that Sonny makes around the house, using TAGteach.


Here’s the book that Sarah is mentioning:

Click here to order

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” a 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

For research on TAGteach, please see the TAGteach Reference List

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).

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. Thank you!

Want your child with autism to see the world? Travels with Autism: Part 4 – Learning something unexpected


Taking a nonverbal young adult with severe autism on a trip to Wyoming turned out to be a wonderful experience, and a learning opportunity for me. One thing I learned about (unexpectedly) was the benefit of doing “pro-active tagging.”

The Problem — Don’t Spook the Horses!

autism, therapeutic riding, autism travelDuring the horseback rides I wanted to be sure my son could maintain Quiet Mouth behavior for two reasons: so that the other riders would have an enjoyable outing and so that he would not spook the horses by a sudden loud outburst. I could not tag and reinforce this behavior since I riding behind him and he was out of reach.

The Accidental Solution — Pro-active Tagging

What to do? I mulled this over the first morning as I took my son for a long walk before breakfast. During this walk I decided to tag intensively for what I call the “calming tag points”: Quiet Mouth, Appropriate Vocalization, Hands Down, Smiles, and Cute Glances. Intensive tagging and reinforcing had worked well on our airplane trip to keep him calm and happy, so it seemed reasonable to do this again.

Read More

Want your child with autism to see the world? A world champion told us, “Be strong and stay encouraged.” Travels with Autism: Part 2: A Life Lesson


A dream abandoned

When my children were little, I dreamed of taking them out West to see the Rocky Mountains and national parks. My younger son’s autism diagnosis and challenging behaviors put that dream out of mind for years.

This summer an opportunity popped up to go to Wyoming, and off we went, just the two of us. So …

Read More

Want your child with autism to see the world? We used TAGteach for a smooth flight! Travels With Autism: Part 1: The Airplane


Travels With Autism: Part 1 — The Airplane

Over the summer I took my 20 year old nonverbal son with severe autism on a trip to Wyoming. This involved a 3 ½ hour flight from the East Coast to Denver and a 1 ½ hour flight from Denver to Wyoming; it was about six hours of plane travel, not counting time waiting in the airports.

Since my son has lots of experience with 7-hour car trips, I wasn’t overly worried, but an airplane is a different environment, and you can’t just pull over and take a break. I took pains to be prepared and had a plan of positive behavioral supports in place for the flights.

Read More