Taking a nonverbal young adult with severe autism on a trip to Wyoming turned out to be a wonderful experience, and a learning opportunity for me. One thing I learned about (unexpectedly) was the benefit of doing “pro-active tagging.”
The Problem — Don’t Spook the Horses!
During the horseback rides I wanted to be sure my son could maintain Quiet Mouth behavior for two reasons: so that the other riders would have an enjoyable outing and so that he would not spook the horses by a sudden loud outburst. I could not tag and reinforce this behavior since I riding behind him and he was out of reach.
The Accidental Solution — Pro-active Tagging
What to do? I mulled this over the first morning as I took my son for a long walk before breakfast. During this walk I decided to tag intensively for what I call the “calming tag points”: Quiet Mouth, Appropriate Vocalization, Hands Down, Smiles, and Cute Glances. Intensive tagging and reinforcing had worked well on our airplane trip to keep him calm and happy, so it seemed reasonable to do this again.
The Outcome and the Surprise
Well, it worked beyond my wildest expectations. For the rest of the morning, including a two and a half hour ride, he was quiet, calm, and cooperative, and he had a great time riding his horse! Periodically he would turn around in the saddle to say to me, “Happy, happy,” or, as he pronounces it, “Happeeee, happeeee.”
For the rest of the trip, that became our routine: each day we went on walks to do intensive tagging, and for the rest of the day he was quiet, calm, and “happeeee.” He cooperated with routines, followed instructions, participated with the group, and had a great time.
The intensive, “pro-active” tagging was such a strong support for him that he felt encouraged to explore new things and even try new foods. I was staggered one day to see him run to the buffet to scoop an immense pile of baked beans onto his plate. He had never eaten baked beans before in his life, and he ate them all! To top it off, he has eaten beans since then at home. Wow!
What is Pro-active Tagging?
As we experienced it, “pro-active tagging” is taking the time to tag and reinforce intensively any of the calming tag points: Quiet Mouth, Appropriate Vocalization/Communication, Hands Down, and Feet Still (if appropriate), or any other tag points that are appropriate to the situation. “Intensive,” to me, is tagging anywhere from 8 to 15 times per minute, generally for behaviors the learner can already do. I always like to tag and reinforce Smiles and Cute Glances because it is fun and it makes everyone happy. Intensive pro-active tagging early in the day resulted in great behaviors later in the day.
Benefits of This Trip — Beautiful Places, New Friends
We had a great time with wonderful new experiences that included mountain climbing, horseback riding, and river rafting.
We had the chance to appreciate nature’s beauty in the mountains, canyons, and geysers of Yellowstone.
We met lots of great people! Like many individuals with autism, my son can be “socially inappropriate” in his way of trying to be friendly: he unexpectedly approaches strangers, gently touches them on the arm, and peers into their faces. This is not what people are used to! Luckily, he has the knack of sensing friendly people to approach, and after the startled looks and a brief explanation, the people were always kind and understanding.
We had many pleasant chats and talked with people from all over the country. We met and talked with more people than we would have without Douglas’s outgoing behaviors. I saw that Douglas is perfectly capable of being his own “autism ambassador.”
Expanded Horizons and New Skills
This trip expanded Douglas’s horizons. He experienced new places, new activities, new people, and new food, and he enjoyed them all. We both learned that he could adapt to new surroundings and have a good time. I learned to use “pro-active tagging” to support him so that could sustain his positive behaviors during the day. We even met a world champion. It was amazing.
Now he talks about airplanes and putting clothes into the suitcase. The world is out there and he’s ready to go!
The most important thing that I would do differently is to bring along more taggers! I only brought two and had a moment of panic when I thought I’d lost one on the airplane. I wish I’d had some to give to people. And I hadn’t thought that a tagger might break. The small iClick that I used for most of the trip was totally worn out when we got home. I’ve never worn out a tagger in a week — just shows how heavily it was used.
My final recommendation: when travelling with TAGteach, bring extra taggers!
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, quickly, and intensively. 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.
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