What is ABA and why is it so important for autism?

Did you start hearing a lot about ABA when you first got started with your child?

Did you think, “What on earth is ABA and why is everybody talking about it?”

If you’ve ever wondered what’s the big deal with ABA, here are some facts.

ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis.

ABA is widely acknowledged to be the most effective way to teach skills and manage behaviors in children with autism.

Why? It is based on decades of scientific experiment and verification.

ABA is a science

Applied Behavior Analysis is a science, just like biology, chemistry or physics. Scientists in this field use the scientific method to explore questions about behavior and learning. We all learned about the scientific method in our high school science classes. Here is a review of the steps of the Scientific Method:

  1. observation of phenomena
  2. development of a hypothesis explaining these phenomena
  3. experiments to test the hypothesis
  4. collection of data from the experiments
  5. analysis of data
  6. development of a conclusion.

This process is replicated to refine and validate the results. When the process is completed, if the results meet certain criteria (the results are stable, they last over time, they can be replicated), the scientific method results in the discovery of new scientific “laws.”

The good thing about these “laws” is that we know they are valid. They are real. And they work.

Scientific Law: A regularity which applies to all members of a broad class of phenomena

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Will I be treating my child like a dog if I use TAGteach?

dogsThis is a fair question. On the surface, Teaching with Acoustical Guidance (TAGteach), a method where you use an audible event marker signal (a click) and a reinforcer to teach a human a behavior, sounds very similar to the popular and effective clicker training method used with dogs, dolphins, killer whales and other animals. From a scientific and technical standpoint, the methods are similar.

Both methods are based on the scientific, research-validated fact that a behavior that is reinforced will occur more often. TAGteach has been used successfully in many teaching and training applications with humans, including elite level gymnastics, orthopedic surgeons, fishing boats in the Bering Sea, speech therapy, professional golf instruction, main stream classrooms and special education classrooms, among others. Turns out, TAGteach is also a wonderful way to teach kids with autism.

The TAGteach work with orthopedic surgeons was featured in the Scientific American blog and published in a major orthopedic surgery journal. In other published studies TAGteach was found to be effective for teaching adult golf, high school football players and children with autism.

TAGteach is recommended by many leading experts as an effective and science-based approach for teaching children with autism. TAGteach research results have been presented at the Association for Behavior Analysis conferences 48 times between 2004-2016.

Typical kids

Parents of typically developing children can teach their children with verbal instructions and modeling:  “Put your socks on first, then your shoes,” “This is how you slice a sandwich.”  These children watch, listen, copy and learn. They understand language, they speak, and they respond to verbal praise. It’s wonderful and magical to see how much they can learn at an early age.

Kids with autism

Our kids with autism are different. They have language, communication, and sensory problems, to name a few. Even those children who can speak, often do not comprehend instructions, or they cannot respond appropriately to the instructions. Read More

Got autism? Got screaming and verbal stimming? You can teach your child peace and quiet.

Originally posted Dec 15, 2014. Updated Jan 9, 2017, Updated Sep 21, 2018

Screaming, loud noises, verbal stimming

These are the sounds we autism parents hear all too frequently in our homes.

They never seem to stop.

They drive us to distraction.

They can destroy the peace and quiet of the family. Sometimes they can destroy the family itself.

When my son was little, he did a lot of screaming and verbal stimming. I discovered that with the positive behavioral method known as TAGteach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) I was able to reduce these sounds, increase appropriate vocalizations and get some of that precious peace and quiet.

TAGteach uses positive reinforcement

TAGteach is based on the science of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and uses positive reinforcement to build desired behaviors. In addition to the positive reinforcement, TAGteach adds an “event marker” i.e., an acoustical signal to indicate to the child when he/she has performed a desired behavior. The acoustical signal is generally a click sound, called a “tag” made by any type of clicker device, or better yet, a TAGteach tagger.  After the “tag,” you give a reinforcer to the child. Here’s how I used this. Read More

The difficult car trip: Some suggestions for addressing a common problem for autism parents

four kids in a car in bright clothes with seat belts on, smiling and happy

Recently, a person sent a query asking what to do about a child who has severe anxiety when riding in the car.

Good car behavior is critical for the well-being of the family. It is worth the time and effort to teach the child how to behave properly in the car and to feel calm and happy when riding in the car. TAGteach is an excellent and easy way to build these skills in small increments. With TAGteach, you “tag” a desired behavior of the child with an event marker signal (often a clicker) and then “reinforce” (give a treat of the child’s liking). TAGteach allows the child to experience success for very small behaviors that eventually add up to a strong, complex behavior.

First small step: show that the car is not harmful

Instead of taking an anxious child out in the car, start by showing the child that the car is just an object on the driveway. Park the car on the driveway and tag and reinforce the child every time he looks at or walks near the car. Here are some potential movements to tag: Child walks next to car, Tag and Reinforce. Child stands next to car, Tag and Reinforce. Child touches or opens car door, Tag and Reinforce. Child walks to another door, Tag and Reinforce. Child touches or opens another door, Tag and Reinforce. Child glances inside car, Tag and Reinforce. Give the child as much time as he needs to become comfortable around the exterior of the car. Spend a few minutes several times a day working around the exterior of the car.

Second small step: child gets into car

Once the child is comfortable around the exterior of the car, work on making the child comfortable in the interior. Bring the child to the car and open the doors. Place toys and some lollipops on the seats. Wait to see if the child goes into the car. Tag and reinforce all physical movements related to getting into the car: potential tag points are Hand On Car, Foot On Car Step, Head Poking In Car, Climbing Into Car. Let the child explore at his own pace; refrain from urging him to go into the car. Let him take his time.

When it finally happens and the child gets in the car, tag and reinforce! This should earn a huge reinforcer! Keep practicing Child Gets In Car until he is comfortable. Continue observing the child and tag and reinforce every time he sits on the seat; this would earn another huge reinforcer! Keep practicing Child Sits In Seat and tag and reinforce the child every time he does it. Offer toys or activity items to the child and tag and reinforce every time he touches an item; the tag point would be Touch Toy.

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Horses, helmets and autism, oh my! How TAGteach taught a little boy to keep his helmet on during therapeutic riding

autism parent help, TAGteachThe problem

What do you do when a child with autism will not wear something that is required for safety?

This was the problem facing a therapeutic riding center with one client, an eight-year old boy with autism. The boy would not wear the safety helmet.

The rules are clear: no helmet, no horse.

Jon Luke, a determined volunteer at the center, tells how he asked for and found a solution. A boy, a horse, a happy ending. Watch this drama unfold!

The volunteer asked the TAGteach community for help

“I volunteer at an equine therapeutic riding center and am looking for some help with getting a young Hispanic boy with autism to wear a helmet. We need to have him wearing a helmet but he keeps pulling it off. Has anyone had a similar challenge and, if so, what did you do to successfully get the rider to wear the helmet?

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

Copy of Alone in the woods...


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.

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Injury! TAGteach to the rescue — for crutches and a walking cast

The Injury

TAGteach is a great tool for dealing with those “pop-up” challenges that erupt when we least expect them.

A few days ago my teenage son (non-verbal, severe autism) stumbled in the evening when going up the stairs. The next morning he was unable to put weight on his left foot, so he hopped bravely around the house on his right foot.

We made an appointment for him right away and pulled out some old crutches for him to use.

Autism parent help TAGteachFirst Problem — Crutches

Although my son has seen people use crutches, he has never used them himself. So, I had the task of immediately, on the spot, teaching him to use crutches.

Luckily, he understood right away to place them under his arms, grip the handles, and lean on them. The part that was confusing for him was swinging them forward.

Immediately, I had my tag point: Swing crutches forward. (What you want, One thing, Observable, Five words or less). I showed him how, and after a few tags he was able to swing them forward quite well.

We hobbled off to the doctor and, after an exam and x-rays, walked out, not with crutches but with a removable padded walking cast. (Luckily, nothing was broken, only sore.)

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We Special Needs Parents can sail our own ship and weather the storms


Special Needs Parents

by Sean Pogson

From a parent with a 4-year old little girl with a complex genetic condition that not much is known about: TAGteach has been the only thing that has made a real positive difference to my daughter’s progress.

The Struggle

Before we first started using TAGteach we struggled even to get our daughter to engage with us. We were not seeing much progress in our daughter’s development. We felt at a loss, and our beautiful little girl seemed lost to us. We struggled to reach her. No matter how hard we tried, our daughter couldn’t even cope with a cuddle or give eye contact. So we struggled to be able to teach her anything.

The Change

Autism parent help TAGteach eye contactThen we discovered TAGteach and slowly and surely things started to change. We learned how to prepare our daughter for blood tests and medical tests. We learned to teach her to feed herself. We taught her to give eye contact.

We learned how to help her take control whilst having meltdowns. We watched in total awe as our screaming, frustrated little girl’s tears turned into laughs and giggles. We learned to help her cope with sensory processing issues. We learned to teach her to enjoy a swing. We learned to teach her to pull-to-stand (pull up to a standing position), and we taught her to get up and down the stairs with assistance.

Our Journey

There are a great many things that our daughter and we have learned via the aid of TAGteach and this wonderful science of helping. We are very much still novices and there is much we still have to learn, but the one thing we have learned, more than anything else, is that we can learn. And no matter what is thrown at us, we can learn to sail our own ship and weather the storms.

We have learned TAGteach is the unrivaled champion of our household, and all this we learned from Martha Gabler’s website, Chaos to Calm, the TAGteach International website, and the webinar series for autism parents.

You don’t have to take my word for it. In fact, I would suggest you try it and see for yourself. I suspect you will not be disappointed. Our family certainly isn’t, especially our once non-verbal little girl, whose favorite phrase at the moment is, “Look what I can do.”

A message from Martha Gabler


TAGteach Free Video Series

Newly released video series available, free, on TAGteach:  Three Steps Any Autism Parent Can Take to go From Tears and Frustration to Family Happiness




What is TAGteach?autism parent help 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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Alone in the woods with autism, SIB and … thankfully TAGteach


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.

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TAGteach. Do you wonder how it actually works? What kids think of it? How instructors react to it? Here are 6 minutes of video that answer your questions.

TAGteach! What the heck is it

You’ve heard about the acoustical support, TAGteach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance). You may be wondering how it works in a real life teaching situation with real kids and real instructors. Here are three short videos, totaling 6 minutes, that show the “how” of TAGteach magic in action.

Video #1:   The Lesson: TAGteach Parkour: Lazy Vault — Coaching Past Fear (2.47 minutes)

In this video, a young woman is learning to do a vault. She is dispirited and fearful. Her coaches observe and end up developing the following series of tag points:

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