Review of the Book “Chaos to Calm” by Dr. Lee A. Wilkinson

3D for blog


The demands placed on parents caring for a child with autism can contribute to a high level of parental distress and adversely affect family functioning. Unfortunately, families are often exposed to unsubstantiated, pseudoscientific theories, and related clinical practices that are ineffective and compete with validated treatments. The time, effort, and financial resources spent on ineffective treatments can create an additional burden on families. As a result, parents and caregivers everywhere are eager for credible, research-based information on the most effective treatments for autism. Chaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism by Martha Gabler describes an evidence-based method that can be used by parents and caregivers to address the everyday challenges associated with autism and improve the quality of life for their children and families.

The book is a personal account of Martha Gabler’s journey from chaos to calm and how she discovered and implemented an effective teaching method for decreasing the challenging behaviors of her non-verbal son Doug, who was diagnosed with severe autism. Gabler shows parents how to use a method called TAGteach to address many of the common and difficult problems of autism. Briefly, the acronym TAG stands for “Teaching with Acoustical Guidance.” The method utilizes an acoustical signal such as a click or a hand clap to “mark” the behavior that will earn positive reinforcement. TAGteach is based on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and relies on the use of positive reinforcement, prompting, fading, and shaping to increase desired behaviors. It is a completely positive approach that is relatively easy to learn and implement by parents and other “non-experts.”

Read More

Sometimes people think their child is too high-functioning for TAGteach. Let’s take another look.

gym tag reducedI would like to show you how TAGteach is a great teaching method for all kinds of learners in all kinds of areas. TAGteach is not only effective for children with autism and other disabilities, but also for sophisticated learners working on advanced academic and athletic skills.

TAGteach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) is a scientifically-based teaching and communication method. It is based on the science of behavior, the same science underlying Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), and involves the use of positive reinforcement to achieve behavior goals. The unique aspect of TAGteach is that it combines positive reinforcement with an acoustical event marker signal. The marker—the key communication tool used in the system—makes a distinctive “click” sound to mark a behavior at the time it occurs. The mark (the “tag”or “click”) means YES, YOU DID SOMETHING GOOD, and the absence of the tag means TRY AGAIN.

TAGteach has had a huge, positive impact on my family in teaching skills to my nonverbal son with severe autism. It has helped many other children with autism and other types of learners too. Yet I hear people say, “My child is too high-functioning for that. She has speech.” TAGteach offers much more than the event marker. The teaching protocol for TAGteach has five important features that are beneficial to all learners, whether low or high functioning. These are discussed below.

Read More

Autism: Turning liabilities into assets with TAGteach

Family walking in the woodsHello. My name is Martha Gabler and I am the parent of a nonverbal teenage boy with autism. I would like to invite you to learn about a teaching approach known as “Teaching with Acoustical Guidance” (TAGteach), and how it turned the “liabilities” of autism into “assets” in our house. I will also give an example of how I used TAGteach to teach my son two useful behaviors that greatly improved our quality of life. I hope you will want to learn more, and if you do, I invite you to contact me with any questions.

The liabilities

If you ask, “Why is it so hard to teach a child with autism?” you will get a long list of “liabilities.” These include sensory issues, speech and language difficulties, and challenging behaviors, many of which are severe. Recent findings show how just a few of these problems can create confusion for a learner with autism. Research at the University of Rochester has demonstrated that children with autism perceive movement as occurring faster than it actually is. So, if you demonstrate something with objects or your hands, the child will perceive the movements as happening faster than they actually are. Combine this perception problem with research from SFARI which demonstrated that children with autism take longer to listen to and process speech. Now, imagine the confusion for the child: objects, people’s movements and activities are moving too fast, but language comprehension is going too slowly: everything is out of snyc. No wonder the child has a hard time with learning and becomes frustrated. These negative emotions can lead to anger, acting out and all those challenging, sometimes aggressive behaviors we hear about.

Read More

The Lunchbox

By Cassandra Webb

This is the lunch box to end all lunch boxes.

I can’t take full credit, I did spot the original by Easy Peasy Organics.

lunch boxThe plastic storage bead or tackle boxes can be picked up from stores and online for anything from $2.50 to the $10 I paid.

They aren’t much bigger than a normal lunch box, a little wider and a little skinnier. I went one step further and added the little fish stickers. So when my son eats the food he can find the fish underneath.

Read More

A lost opportunity for America

ABA therapyThe purpose of this post is to recommend an excellent book for parents of children with autism, and to share some personal comments on my reactions after reading this book. The book is Educating Children with Learning and Behavior Problems, by Dr. Martin Kozloff.

Written for parents

This book, written for parents, explains the basic principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, especially the role of positive reinforcement in teaching skills to special needs learners. It explains how to assess a child’s skill levels, set up a home education program, and teach functional, communication and self-help skills. In the back of the book is a detailed Behavior Evaluation Scale, which covers many aspects of a child’s development, including such things as eye contact, imitation, fine and gross motor skills, play skills and communication skills.


Why is this book so good? First, it lays things out clearly for parents. As autism parents, we all have to learn about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and the arcane language of positive reinforcement, reinforcement schedules and concepts such as “satiation.” This book describes these concepts in an easy-to-understand way. Plus, you do not become overwhelmed while reading this book. After a discussion of a new topic, Dr. Kozloff asks you to stop, take a break and make yourself a sandwich or get a fresh cup of coffee!

Read More

Scientific methods for educating a child with autism

hp_logoasat logo




I have been working with my son, who has severe autism and is profoundly non-verbal, since he was 4 years old (he is now a young adult). I started off knowing virtually nothing, but having heard vaguely of something called “ABA” (Applied Behavior Analysis). Had I known then what I know now about the behaviorally-based methods, therapies and curricula available, our journey would have been much smoother and faster.

This article describes the topics that I had to educate myself about: teaching methods, curriculum, how to make adaptations to help a child with autism learn, and increasing desired behaviors with positive reinforcement. At the end of this post is a list of methods that have worked well for us, plus my personal recommendations for books to read if you are fairly new to the task of teaching a child with autism.

Check out what reputable research organizations have to say

I recommend that autism parents begin by reviewing the websites of two reputable autism research organizations: the Organization for Autism Research (OAR), and the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT). Both provide information about successful methods for working with children with autism. ASAT has extensive information about methods that have scientific validity and methods that are much-promoted, but do not have scientific validity in the treatment of autism.

The National Autism Center has produced a guide for parents entitled: A Parent’s Guide to Evidence-Based Practice and Autism.

Read More

Learning to swim with TAGteach

Here is an example of TAGteach at work. This child is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. His verbal skills are good so we can tell him what the tag point is (that is what exactly he needs to do to get a tag (click sound) and a candy. A non-verbal child would learn just as fast once he understood the game.

This child is easily distracted and does not like to be asked or told do something. But he loves games!

Note that there is no talking other than to tell him the tag point. He chooses to do it or not to do it. There is no begging, cajoling, coaxing or other coercive action on the part of the coach.

This was the one and only time that we needed to tag him to go into the pool. By the end of the session he was going in and paddling around on his own. This short session of TAGteach had created a positive association with swimming and built confidence so that the activity became self-reinforcing. It took about 10 minutes and 1 small package of Skittles.


TAGteach is great for teaching kids with autism, but it started with elite level gymnastics coaching, and sport coaches for people of all ages and abilities can benefit.

Read More

How can you tell when your child with autism is running out of gas?

Out Of GasYour car has a warning system

We’ve all done this: pulled away in the car and suddenly noticed that the needle in the gas gauge is hovering on empty. Naturally, at that particular moment, it is always extremely inconvenient to stop for gas, but we have to. No one wants to be stuck on the side of the road with an empty gas tank.

Running out of gas is such an inconvenient and potentially dangerous occurrence, that car companies give us all kinds of warnings before disaster hits. The gas gauge tells us how much is in the car and we can estimate how much further we can drive before we have to fill up. If we ignore the gas gauge, the blinking FILL TANK light comes on. If we ignore that, we will pretty soon feel the car slow to a halt, and we are stuck.


So does a child with autism

Kids with autism also get stuck and have problems, but they too have warning systems. Their warning systems just aren’t always apparent to us. My son, who is nonverbal and has severe autism, was always sending signals when he had problems, but for a long time I was too dense to comprehend them. Finally, I began paying attention and learned how to read his emotional gauge and emergency blinking lights.

Read More

Q & A re: Quiet Mouth


Several readers emailed questions about using positive reinforcement and an event marker to teach “Quiet Mouth” behavior to my son. The questions had a similar theme:  How did I know the “function” of the behavior? Did I have any idea why my son was screaming? Was he trying to communicate?


These are all interesting and appropriate questions. I never knew the function of most of the behaviors my son displayed, including the constant screaming. I would have liked to have had this information. However, like most autism parents, I never had, and still do not have, access to sustained behavioral services and professionals who could help piece this out. Eventually I just stopped thinking about that part of the problem because there was nothing I could do about it. The continuous screaming or shrieking appeared to be a self-stimulatory behavior. I wanted him to do more productive things with his time than scream and stomp, so I taught him to walk nicely and quietly with me in the neighborhood. Once he learned this set of behaviors, we were able to go out to other places and we started to have a much better quality of life.

Autism, behavior and our children

lorrie 4 (2)

We are pleased to present this Guest Post from Lorrie Servati, autism mom and creator of the blog Nathan’s Voice.

Autism is a disorder that affects 1 in 88 children, 1 in 54 boys and a child is diagnosed every 20 minutes. Autism impairs the development of a child’s social behavior and communication, which means he or she will need the support of the people who love them. It is a journey that definitely is nothing like you would have ever imagined.

My child has had a very difficult time when it comes to interacting with others. It is hard for him to accept that anyone else might have anything important to talk about. He has had plenty of problems at school, making or keeping friends, and he has probably created an imaginary friend to make up for the lack of having any real friends. My child’s teachers and I have been coaching him on how to listen to his friends, to try to remember something about what each of them likes, and talk more with his friends about their favorite things. He has made wonderful progress over the past four years and, with daily encouragement, he continues to make an effort.

Another area that children with autism have trouble with is making eye contact with anyone. Our son would become extremely frustrated when we asked him to look at us, when we were talking to him. He would lash out at anyone who would try to console him, then, he would run out of the room screaming at the top of his lungs. It was very aggravating to watch my child as he struggled to communicate his wants and needs. During that particular time, he was overly obsessed with a red savings card from a local pharmacy and he would dig through my purse to find it. I creatively used it to help him focus on conversations, in school and on good behavior. He has improved remarkably and since graduated from that little red savings card to the intriguing world of collecting Pokemon trading cards. He eventually began to ask us for a trip to the store so he could have another package of Pokemon cards, in exchange for learning to self-regulate his behavior. It’s an amazing feeling to realize the child that was diagnosed with autism has been replaced with an older, much more mature version.

Read More