Got autism? Want to know why on earth your kid is doing that?

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Autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcement

Do you watch your child with autism and think:

What on earth is that kid doing now?

Why on earth is he doing that?

What brought that about?

You’re not alone.

Probably this question pops up dozens of times a day. When my son was little, I would think about what happened earlier in the day, whether he was upset about something that happened yesterday, or if he was bored or something else.

I tried to figure out reasons for his behavior by looking at what happened BEFORE the behavior.

I had it all wrong

In the early years I didn’t know enough about behavioral science. I had heard that ABA was the recommended treatment for autism, and I thought positive reinforcement was a nice idea, but I didn’t understand the most important thing.

It’s not what happens BEFORE the behavior, it’s what happens AFTER.

Why is he doing that? Because of the Consequence!

The most important fact to know about behavioral science is that CONSEQUENCE of an action is the thing to think about. The CONSEQUENCE of an action determines whether that behavior will happen again — or not. If the CONSEQUENCE is pleasant, the behavior will occur again. We all do many things every day. The actions that result in nice, pleasing consequences are what we will do again. This is how all living things respond to their environments.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. How else can we decide if something is safe, pleasing or worthwhile? We know because of the consequence.  Touch the hot stove, and you’ll be careful near the stove in the future.

autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcement



Open the refrigerator door, see some nice food and you’ll open it again.


autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcement



If the food in the refrigerator is always old and rotten, you will stop looking there for food.

The Consequence Rule applies to kids with autism too

Why do our adorable kids line up toys, spin and bounce, or shriek and bolt? It’s because the CONSEQUENCES of these actions are pleasing to the child. Since our kids with autism have various, complex sensory issues, we may not understand why a consequence is pleasing, but we must respect that the consequence is pleasing for them.

Now that we know the importance of the consequence, we can think about the ABCs.

The ABCs!  Antecedent – Behavior – Consequence

The ABC format, Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence, is the standard, scientifically-validated approach for thinking about behavior. Luckily for us parents, it lends itself to an easy chart to help understand our kids’ behaviors.

When professionals look at behavior, they generally ask parents to keep an ABC chart. When a child does a behavior, you write down the behavior, then fill in information about the Antecedent (what happened just before the behavior) and the Consequence (what happened immediately after the behavior). So the chart displays Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence.

By reviewing the ABC chart, you start to see patterns. You will understand which consequences are affecting your child’s behaviors. Now you know the correct question to ask!

Too often we ask the wrong question: What is the Antecedent?

Once you’re familiar with the ABCs, you won’t ask, “What is the antecedent?” any more. You won’t wonder, “What caused this behavior?” “Why is he doing that?” or “What brought this on?” You will know that the Antecedent is interesting but not pertinent to why your child does the behavior.

You know it’s the wrong question to ask. Here’s the right question:

autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcement

Ask the right question: What is the Consequence?

Now we’ve got it right! This is the question to ask: What is the CONSEQUENCE?

What is happening after the behavior? What does my kid experience after he does this? Look at your ABC chart and see what is written in the Consequence column. Whatever is written down there is keeping that behavior going.

Many times our own actions, as parents or instructors, are the consequences that keep behaviors going! This can be hard to swallow, because we always try to do what is best for our kids. But accidentally we may do things that keep undesired behaviors going. I made this mistake many times.

Change Behavior by Changing the Consequence!

Once we realize that the CONSEQUENCE keeps a behavior going, we know that we can change the consequences that the child experiences. We can change the situation: we can change by not reacting to the undesired behaviors, and by giving positive consequences for productive, functional behaviors.

TAGteach makes it easy

It may sound like a lot of work for us to change our behavior, luckily TAGteach makes this easy.

Our beloved children with autism can and do display productive, functional behaviors, but often these are so short and fleeting that we barely notice them, especially when they are drowned out in a swirl of chaos. With the TAGteach tagger, you can easily and often tag and reinforce every micro-second of eye contact, smiling or appropriate vocalization. When you provide positive reinforcement (a pleasant CONSEQUENCE) for each of these actions, the child will perform them more often.

Now you know why your child is doing something. And you know what to do about it. With TAGteach you can easily provide pleasant consequences for desired behaviors. With TAGteach you’re on your way to increasing your child’s functional skills and creating a happier home for the whole family.

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 can learn many new skills with TAGteach — at their own pace.


autism, tagteach, ABA, positive reinforcementFor more information see the TAGteach International website.

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TAGteach taggers are available here.

See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism or ask 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.

2 thoughts to “Got autism? Want to know why on earth your kid is doing that?”

  1. Martha,
    I just love your post. You have a unique style that makes complex concepts much simpler to grasp. No wonder you are a major force in spreading the use of TAGteach, another example of elegant, immediate guidance to produce new learning and for strengthening appropriate behavior. Thanks for your contribution. Keep up the excellent work.

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