Got autism? Got tantrums? Here’s what you can do to help your child.

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autism, tagteach, ABA, positive reinforcement

It’s happening again

Another tantrum.

Your beautiful child with autism erupted into a tantrum.

You don’t know why. It’s the second or third tantrum of the day.

You want to help. You wish you could do something to calm him down.

What can you do? Here’s a way to calm down your child in less than half an hour that won’t drain your energy. I’ll explain what to do, then tell you why this works.

Here’s what to do in the first 5 minutes

Gather your materials

  1. Find something in your house that makes a quick, sharp click sound: a ballpoint pen, a flashlight, or if need be, a spoon that you can tap on the wall or a table.
  2. Get some treats that your child likes: very small pieces of candy, pretzel pieces, cereal pieces, tic-tacs, or anything similar. Put them into a small container that you can hold in your hand

Here’s what to do in the next 10-45 minutes

Stand back and watch your child. Don’t think about why he may be upset. Don’t think about how upset you are. Don’t talk or interact, just observe. Look carefully at how he’s moving his arms, legs, head, torso and mouth.

See if you can spot a split second of Both Feet On Floor or Hand(s) Still. If you see such a split second, immediately click your pen/flashlight or tap the spoon, and quickly hand your child a treat. Continue observing. You may spot a split second of Quiet Mouth (he stops screaming because he has to breathe). If so, immediately click your pen/flashlight or tap the spoon, and follow up with another treat.

Your child may be too upset to take the treats. If so, don’t worry, just set them down where he can see them. Don’t talk to or interact with him. Don’t react to any undesired behaviors with words or attention.

Continue watching. Keep a keen look out for Both Feet On Floor and Quiet Mouth and mark and reinforce these behaviors every time they occur.  Keep this up until the child has calmed down. This may take anywhere from ten minutes to sixty minutes.

What am I doing?

What you are doing is positively reinforcing constructive physical movements each time your child performs them; positive reinforcement results in these behaviors happening more often.  For a tantrumming child to have Both Feet On The Floor, Quiet Mouth, and Hands Still is a big change! A child who is performing these behaviors is generally calm and not running around upset.

A parent who sees a child performing these constructive behaviors will feel pleased and relieved. What you have done is you have “marked” and “reinforced” small physical movements that, when added together, result in a child who is no longer screaming, wailing or running around. You have changed, or “shaped,” your child’s behavior. You have reinforced positive behaviors and not reacted to undesired behaviors. The method you just used is called Teaching with Acoustical Guidance (TAGteach).

Why does this work?

Because of the scientific laws of behavior. The most significant discovery in the field of behavioral science is that a behavior that is reinforced is a behavior that will happen again. “Behavior that is already occurring, no matter how sporadically, can always be intensified with positive reinforcement,” explains behavioral scientist Karen Pryor. This is the power of positive reinforcement.

Why does it work so well for kids with autism?

The “tag,” the acoustical signal, gets around the communication and sensory problems common to many children with autism. Many children with autism don’t respond well to verbal coaching (or begging and pleading).

The event marker, the “tag,” tells them what they have done right, at the exact moment they do it! It is precise, positive information.

It’s an easy, effective way to teach, and there are no confusing words or sensory overload for the child.

It’s also a great way to manage a tantrum. Your child will calm down. You will calm down. You will feel empowered because you’ve discovered a great way to deal with a tough behavior. Once your child is calmed down, you can focus on helping him do more constructive actions. When he is performing more constructive actions and getting lots of reinforcement and positive attention from Mom and Dad, he will do more of those good things. The whole family will be upward bound.

Does it work with difficult cases?

Here’s what Stuart Harder, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with a school district in Minnesota, said about using TAGteach with a student. (Note, “SIB” stands for Self-Injurious Behavior, a challenging behavior that certain children with autism may exhibit.)

“I worked with a girl last year whose rates of SIB were rather significant (tissue damage and bruising). I tagged quiet body and quiet voice to break into escalating frequencies that routinely resulted in full blown SIB. Loved the decelerations the TAGs produced.”

Review of tag points to calm a child

  1. Quiet Mouth, or Appropriate Vocalization
  2. Hand(s) Still
  3. Foot/Feet Still
  4. Both Feet on Floor

Want more information?  See links below.

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.


autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcement

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!

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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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