TAGteach, a waiting game where both parties win!

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autism tagteach applied behavior analysis

The waiting game

In a game, there is usually a winner and a loser. TAGteach involves waiting, but this waiting game ends up with two winners and no losers. Here’s how the TAGteach Waiting Game works:

TAGteach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) is a wonderful tool for teaching children with autism. It has many features that make it highly effective for this population. TAGteach combines an acoustical signal (a “tag” or click) with positive reinforcement to increase functional behaviors.

The acoustical signal or “tag” delivers precise, timely information to the child about what he or she has done that is correct. The tag is quick and requires no words, so the parent can reinforce a desired behavior more quickly and more often, and the child has more opportunities to learn.

With TAGteach, the desired behavior is broken down into small parts so the child can learn one small step at a time. And finally, TAGteach is based on the principles of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis). The most important scientific law of ABA is that a behavior that is reinforced is a behavior that will occur again. By reinforcing appropriate, functional behaviors, you will teach a child to perform these behaviors more often and for longer periods of time.

First step -Assess and decide

The first step, when starting with TAGteach, is to assess your child. There is a free, downloadable Child Observation Chart on this website that you can use to make notes about your child’s behaviors (physical movements of the body). Five minutes of observation will give you an eye-opening description of your child’s behaviors.

Whenever I do the observation with my child, I’m always surprised at the difference between what I think is going on and what is actually going on. Once you have a list of what the child is doing, you can decide which behaviors you would like to see more often. If the child storms about the house a lot, you probably would like him to walk slowly. If the child screams a lot, you probably would like more Quiet Mouth or Appropriate Vocalization behavior.

Second step — Set tag points

Determine the tag points (specific physical movements) that you plan to reinforce. Let’s use the behaviors mentioned above of a child who storms about and screams or shrieks a lot. Even though the child displays these behaviors at high rates, there will be split seconds when he is standing still, or is not shrieking, or is vocalizing appropriately. We can describe these desired behaviors as Both Feet On The Ground, Quiet Mouth and Appropriate Vocalization.

These desired behaviors are the “tag points.” These are the behaviors you will look for in your child, and when your child displays them, you will immediately tag (press the tagger to make the click sound) and reinforce (hand over a treat or token). Then, you sit around and wait for your child to do these desired behaviors again.

Third step — The waiting game

This is the time you sit back, spend time in a room watching your child and wait for him to perform one of the tag points. There is no way to get around the Waiting Game. You cannot force any child with autism to perform a desired behavior, you can only reinforce him when he voluntarily performs one. As soon as he performs it, quickly tag and treat, then sit back and wait again.

Even though you may feel that you are spending a lot of time waiting, your child will quickly figure out which behaviors are earning tags and treats, and will soon perform more of those behaviors. Sometimes it can be surprising to see how quickly they catch on and start performing more of the desired behaviors. But sometimes, a behavior that we want a child to perform can be daunting for the child. Eye contact is a good example of this.

We may want to teach our children eye contact, because we know that society values this and we want our child to have his best chance at making friends, paying attention to his teacher and eventually doing well in a job interview. We know that eye contact may be an overwhelming sensory or emotional experience for the child, so we want to make it as stress-free as possible for him to learn this skill. If eye contact is difficult, the child will not perform it very often, but you can reinforce him for those fleeting moments when he does perform it.

TAGteach truly respects the child

With TAGteach you cannot force the child to give you eye contact, but you can reinforce him when he does it of his own accord. The child has the choice of whether to do eye contact again, or maybe to wait a few days because it was such an overwhelming experience for him. By allowing a child to perform a behavior at a rate that is comfortable for him, the parent builds a relationship of trust and patience with the child. In return, the child feels safe, does not feel coerced into doing things that are overwhelming for him, and is actually having a nice time because he is getting lots of tags and treats for the other behaviors he’s performing.

Everyone wins

This is how both parties win the Waiting Game. The parent has the success of teaching the child more functional behaviors and building a trusting relationship with the child. The child has the comfort of experiencing positive reinforcement and of being in control of his own learning. The child can go at the pace that is comfortable for him, and the parent supports that. The Waiting Game results in learning, mutual understanding, and probably a calmer and happier household. Everyone wins.

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 reinforcementCheck out the TAGteach International website.

Join the free TAGteach listserve.

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.

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