TAGteach: Building great behaviors from the smallest seeds

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sowThe entire fruit is already present in the seed

Since springtime is almost upon us, many people are thinking about their yards and gardens, and may even be starting seeds for flowers and vegetables. Seeds are amazing things. From these very tiny particles, large plants and trees will grow.

Our kids with autism don’t follow the typical growth process. With their communication, learning and sensory issues, they often display challenging, dysfunctional and disruptive behaviors. In fact, so many difficult behaviors may be going on at the same time that it may seem impossible to make headway on any front.

But, in the midst of the behavioral chaos, a child with autism will, at some point, perform a behavior (physical movement) that can be the basis of more functional behaviors. These fleeting movements are “seeds” that can eventually grow into functional behaviors, provided they are nurtured and receive lots of positive reinforcement.

How can we increase the number of times our kids with autism perform such rare, but desired, physical movements? TAGteach!

TAGteach is a teaching and communication method that combines an audible marker, a “tag” (click) made by a small plastic device called a “tagger” with positive reinforcement. With a tagger you “mark” a desired physical movement performed by your child and then give her a treat (the reinforcer). Because the tag is so quick and immediate, you can pinpoint even the most fleeting movements for your child.

Children learn from success

Consistent tagging and treating of these momentary flashes of desired action tells your child, “YES! That’s right, keep it up! You’re learning! Now you’re going to get a treat!” Your child will use this valuable information to learn. She will think, “Hey, I’m going to do more of that behavior, because I get treats and attention from Mom when I do it.”

The child will perform the desired behavior more often and for longer periods of time, and eventually, it will become a habit. From the tiny seed of a momentary flash of action you can build up a great behavior. Then you can start on the next behavior in the process.

How do you know where to start?

Do an assessment. Download the free Child Observation Sheet, observe your child for five minutes and makes notes of the physical movements she performs during that time. Study the list of movements. Are any of them functional? Could any of them be the basis for future more complex behaviors? Pick out two or three behaviors from the list and start tagging and treating your child whenever she performs them. If there are absolutely no potentially functional behaviors on your list, look at the list and think of the opposites of those behaviors. If your child screams a lot, Quiet Mouth or Good Sound/Word are useful tag points. If your child runs around a lot, Both Feet On Floor or Slow Steps are good behaviors to mark and reinforce. If your child is very withdrawn, tag and treat any physical movement such as Head Up, Looks At Mom/Dad/Brother/Cat, or even, Moves Arms/Legs.

Think creatively about what you want your child to do, and see which behaviors she is already performing that can be part of that goal. Build those behaviors up to strong levels with tags and treats, then start tagging and treating new behaviors.

Watch new behaviors grow

A child with autism may seem totally chaotic and disruptive all the time, but if you take the time to observe closely, you can spot micro-seconds of potentially positive behaviors. These micro-seconds are like seeds. They can be nurtured and developed into behaviors that grow and flourish. If neglected, they will be lost in the maelstrom of behavioral chaos. Tag and reinforce your child, and watch the skills grow.

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, applied behavior analysis, ABACheck 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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