Did you know that not only is TAgteach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) a great way to work with kids with autism, but it’s also a lot like on-line shopping? This may surprise you, so let me explain.
When you use TAGteach to teach any child (autism or not), you observe the child and decide which behaviors of the child you would like to increase.
For example, you might like the child to say “thank you” more often, or to spend more time with puzzles or books. When the child performs the desired behavior, you “tag” the behavior with a tagger (“clicker”), then give the child a treat (candy, token, special privilege) as a reinforcer.
These two actions, tag and treat, will result in the child performing that specific behavior more often and eventually, for longer times.
When you do on-line shopping, the process is almost identical. Let’s say your hobby is scuba-diving, and you’re interested in getting a new diving mask. You go to your favorite scuba gear online catalog. You browse through the items to see what you like. Ah ha! You spot the nifty Ocean Quest Arctic Clear High Definition Panoramic Purge Mask priced at $59, and you decide, “That’s for me!” You click on the item, add it to your cart, then go to the online checkout to pay for it. You click, you pay, and soon this great new mask arrives on your doorstep.
Easy. Almost everyone has ordered something on line. But let’s look at this transaction again. What if you went online, clicked on the mask, went to the checkout, but did not enter your Paypal account? You selected it with the click, but you did not pay! You did not “reinforce” the catalog company with money, so no new mask for you! You have to pay to get it.
Let’s look at another version of the transaction. What if you went online, did not click on any item, but sent them a payment of $59? The people at the scuba gear company would be confused. Why did this $59 come in? What are they supposed to do? They look at your past orders and see that you previously ordered the Sherwood Depth Gauge with Max Depth Indicator, so they think, “Hey, maybe this customer wants the Innovative Retractable Compass for $55. Joe, pack up the compass and send it.” You will have an unpleasant surprise in that box. Sure, it’s a great compass, but you really wanted the mask.
What went wrong with this transaction? You didn’t CLICK on the item. You didn’t SELECT what you wanted. To get what you want you have to CLICK and PAY/REINFORCE. You have to do both things to get what you want!
Let’s get back to that child with autism. We know our kids with autism live in a confusing world. They have lots of sensory issues. They process sounds more slowly than typical kids. They perceive motions as happening faster than they actually are. They hear a lot of confusing words, and in the middle of all this, somebody is suddenly high-fiving and handing them a Skittle.
What on earth is it for? How is the kid supposed to know? Nobody CLICKED. Nobody told him, in real time, exactly what he was doing right at exactly the time he was doing it. Now he has a Skittle, but he has no way of knowing what to do to earn another one. The person who gave him the Skittle is disappointed, because the child is not repeating the desired behavior. Why not?
The instructor did not CLICK (SELECT) the behavior that he wanted the kid to do! He did not TAG at the precise moment the child was doing that great behavior, so the kid continues to be confused. Because they didn’t CLICK on the behavior or item, neither the instructor nor the scuba diver got what they wanted, even though the child and the scuba gear company would be happy to comply.
So, let’s be smart and give our kids with autism a break. Let’s give them specific information, in real time, about what they are doing right. Let’s respect the confusion they experience in their environments and allow them to focus on their own actions. Let’s TAG and TREAT one small step at a time, and help them LEARN and GROW.
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” a 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.
For research on TAGteach, please see the TAGteach Reference List
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Picture credits: Online shopping photo from http://www.cherrycross.com/p/get-connected.html. Scuba mask photo from http://www.ohgizmo.com/2006/09/28/oceanic-scuba-mask-with-integrated-hud/. Skittles question mark from http://gasstationgastronomy.com/2012/10/11/skittles-riddles/.