Got autism? Want your child to exercise and have fun outside? Use TAGteach to increase gross motor skills.

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This article focuses on gross motor skills, and how to use the always helpful and easy TAGteach method (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) to encourage your child to get out, move his body, and have fun outside.

Physical activity and exercise offer many benefits to children with autism, including improved muscle tone, improved social skills, and stronger attention skills. Exercise and outdoor activities are important for the health of adult individuals with autism. We can increase our children’s physical skills and their comfort in exploring new physical environments with the right tools and facts.

FACT 1: “Behavior” is “movement”

Here’s the rule about behavior:

Behavior is movement, physical movement of the body. (1)

Once you know that behavior is composed of physical movements of the body, you can study how your child “moves” the parts of his body. A great way to do this is by filling out the free Child Observation Chart. When your child is outside, make notes of how he moves his legs, arms, head, and torso. Note areas of physical strength and weakness. This information will give you a good idea of where to start.

Look at the list of physical movements on your chart. Pick out one or two physical movements that the child is already doing fairly well, and start “tagging” and reinforcing those movements. The goal of this is two-fold: to start at a point of success for the child, and to solidify his current level of abilities so that he has a strong foundation for building new physical skills.

For example, you may see that a child can grasp the handrail on a piece of playground equipment and step on the first step, but hesitates to walk up the steps to the next level. You want to encourage him, not force him, to take that next step. How to encourage your child? By providing positive reinforcement for a physical movement he makes that will lead toward going up the steps. An obvious goal is: moving to the next step. I would set two tag points to work on this. The first one would be Lift Foot, and the second would be Foot On Next Step. My goal would be to increase these two behaviors. How to increase behaviors? The answer is: Fact 2.

FACT 2: Positive Reinforcement Increases Behaviors (physical movements of the body)

Here’s the rule about positive reinforcement:

“Behavior that is already occurring, no matter how sporadically, can always be intensified with positive reinforcement.” (2)

Positive reinforcement causes a behavior to occur more often. TAGteach is an excellent way to encourage and reinforce a child for taking that next step. When your child climbs on the playground equipment, simply stand back, observe and wait. As soon as you see the child lift one foot up, tag and reinforce. The child may put his foot on the next step or he may not. The first goal is to help him feel comfortable and secure in lifting a foot upwards. Your child will, at some point, lift up a foot again, so tag and reinforce this action. Continue tagging Lift Foot, and as soon as he plants that foot on the next step, tag and reinforce Foot On Step.

Repeat this process for a reasonable length of time, and stop as soon as the child displays even the slightest flicker of fatigue or restlessness. The lesson is over. The next time your child heads for this piece of play equipment, he may need to start out at the beginning, or he may feel comfortable going up a few steps. Repeat the process. Tag and reinforce him for Lift Foot and Foot On Next Step. With time and patience, your child will learn to go up the steps when he is ready.

Use TAGteach to increase the range and strength of physical movements

autism, tagteach, ABA, positive reinforcementGross motor skills are easy to teach with TAGteach: observe the learner, analyze the task, start teaching the learner the pre-requisite skills starting out with something he or she can already do, tag and reinforce each component physical movement, teach to mastery, then repeat.

By observing, tagging and reinforcing specific physical movements, you can increase the number and variety of movements that your child makes. As he grows comfortable increasing his range of physical movements, he will try more, achieve more, and be able to participate in more activities.

People in all walks of life use TAGteach to teach walking, running, skipping, climbing, ball skills, scooter and bike riding, ice skating, swimming, horseback riding, boating, gymnastics, archery and golf, to learners of all ages and ability levels.

Use Peer-Tagging to increase social interaction

Another great way to encourage physical activity and social interaction is with “peer-tagging.” With peer tagging, students take turns “tagging” each other for correct physical actions. In the picture above you can see one girl tagging another athlete for correct arm position in gymnastics. Kids love peer-tagging because they help each other succeed.

Physical exercise and outdoor activities are important for health and happiness. Our kids can participate safely and happily too, with a little support, thoughtful preparation, and precisely targeted positive reinforcement.

What is TAGteach?

autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcementTAGteach 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).

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(1) From Dr. Martin Kozloff, Educating Children with Learning and Behavior Problems 
(2) From Karen Pryor, Don't Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training


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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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