As autism parents, many of us find ourselves raising children with communication and language challenges. How do you communicate with a child whose use of language is atypical, or a child like mine who is profoundly nonverbal?
There are alternative communication approaches: picture symbols, sign language, communication devices. These are all excellent.
A new way to “talk”
There is yet another option for communicating with our kids. It is based on behavioral science. It is the TAGteach combination of listening, communicating, and encouraging.
The TAGteach “communication” system helps you do these things:
- “Listen” with your eyes
- “Communicate” by giving immediate positive feedback with a sound
- “Encourage” to increase productive behaviors
- Give your child the freedom to explore and act in an emotionally secure environment
“Listen” with your eyes
When you “listen” with your eyes, you observe your child closely as he moves through his day. You can see that some behaviors (physical movements of the body) are productive and others are not. All of his behaviors happen because of the level of positive reinforcement (i.e., positive consequences, rewards) in his environment, both the productive and unproductive behaviors.
Your child, via his behavior during the day, is telling you that he is receiving positive reinforcement for these physical actions. We may not understand what features in his environment are “reinforcing” these behaviors, but the laws of behavioral science tell us that behaviors keep happening because of positive consequences. Conversely, if he is not performing certain behaviors, he is telling us that he is not receiving positive reinforcement for those behaviors. This is how he communicates without words.
Here is the first channel of communication: your child can “tell” you which of his behaviors are receiving reinforcement: basically, everything that he is doing is being reinforced. Everything he is not doing is not being reinforced.
Communicate: Give immediate positive feedback with a sound
Here is the second channel of communication: we can tell our child which behaviors we would like him to do — via the acoustical support and positive reinforcement.
When we see behaviors that are productive, or that can be the foundation for new skills, we can provide reinforcement specifically for those behaviors. We can tell him, “Yes! Do more of that great thing! That will help you learn.”
We can communicate back to our child easily, quickly and accurate with a “tag”, the acoustical signal of TAGteach. As soon as your child performs a productive behavior, tag and reinforce! Tag and reinforce every time he does it.
The tag is how you communicate, “Yes, that’s it! Woohoo! More of that please!” You are telling him without words. Your super-sensitive child with autism will quickly pick up on the tag and reinforcement, and start performing more of that great behavior.
Encourage: To increase productive behaviors
You now have a communication channel in place:
- The child communicates to you via his behaviors; he “tells” you which actions are receiving reinforcement (or are not receiving reinforcement) in his environment
- You communicate back with your tags and rewards, “Do more of Behavior A”
- The child performs more of Behavior A
Now you look around and notice, “Ah ha, that other behavior, Behavior B, also has potential. I’ll start tagging and giving rewards for Behavior B.” And you do. As your child receives the information — from the tag — and reinforcement that Behavior B is what mom or dad wants, he will do more of Behavior B.
You and your child are communicating and responding to each other — without words. He is learning and changing, you are increasing his skills, and both are interacting.
Give your child the freedom to explore and act in an emotionally secure environment
When you observe your child and use positive reinforcement to “shape” his physical movements into productive skills, you are not only teaching him, you are giving him freedom to explore and learn at his own pace.
With positive reinforcement and TAGteach, there is no punishment. You increase behaviors and develop new skills solely via positive reinforcement. When a child lives in a force-free, punishment-free environment, he feels secure to experiment with new behaviors.
He experiences that certain behaviors result in reinforcement, and other behaviors result in, well, nothing. If a behavior results in nothing, he’ll decide pretty quickly to abandon it. After all, there are lots of new behaviors that do result in tags and positive reinforcement: much better to pay attention to those tags and see how happy it makes mom and dad.
Take the leap
TAGteach offers a unique opportunity to communicate effectively with a child with language and communication challenges. With our eyes we see the behaviors that are receiving positive reinforcement. With the sound of the tag and positive reinforcement, we can tell him which behaviors we would like him to do more often. By increasing the desired behavior, the child tells us that the reinforcement is effective.
This is the communication loop:
- Behavior (child)
- Tag and give reward (parent/instructor)
- Behavior (child)
- Tag and give reward (parent/instructor)
This is interaction. This is an alternate form of communication.
Use TAGteach to increase your child’s communication
Do we want words and language? Of course. You can use TAGteach to increase sounds and vocalizations in your child. Observe your child. Make notes on how he or she “communicates” via gestures, body language, facial expressions, sounds, and words (if any). Tag and reinforce your child every time she communicates via one of these methods. You want to increase her communication skill set.
Pay close attention to all sounds and vocalizations. Tag and reinforce these so that she makes more sounds and she enjoys experimenting with new sounds. Some of these sounds will be closer to speech sounds than others. Select the sounds that are most similar to speech sounds and reinforce those. With time and practice she will try sounds that are closer to words.
One form of communication leads to another.
Start today. Pick up a tagger (or a ballpoint pen or flashlight with clicky top). Tag and reinforce behaviors you like. Watch your child learn — joyfully and confidently.
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 (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.
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