What is your child’s balance of failure and success?

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autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcementDelivering success is critically important when working with a child with autism.

Success is great; we all enjoy it and we feel happy.

Failure is bad; nobody likes it and we get upset if we have too much of it.

For a child with autism, heavy doses of failure can lead to difficult behaviors, even to aggression and anger.

Difficult behaviors

When a child with autism starts biting, hitting or pinching family members, it is a devastating experience for everyone involved (including the child with autism). Sometimes a child who has been doing okay may turn, almost overnight, into an aggressive, physically violent kid.

Most of us are untrained and unprepared for dealing with these behaviors. What do you do? What I learned over time is to watch carefully that balance of success and failure. Too much failure – bad behavior. Lots of success – great behavior.

Phrases that Help

Some years ago I encountered some phrases that help me when I have a problem with my child. They are:

“Difficult behaviors result from unmet needs,”


“Behavior is information.”

I learned that when my child has a lot of difficult behaviors, he is informing me that he has a lot of unmet needs. He cannot communicate the specifics of what is bothering him, the problems continue, and, as a result, he lashes out. When this happens, the balance is tilted towards failure.

Too Hard, Too Much, Too Long

A child generally spends the majority of his time between two environments: school and home. At school most likely he has a lot of demands placed on him: academic demands and behavioral requirements. The academic demands may be completing assignments in writing, math, spelling and so forth. The behavioral requirements may be things like sitting still for a specific period of time, getting in line, waiting in lines, going from one place to another, or from one activity to another. Any or all of these demands, as they are currently placed on a child, may be too much for him to handle. He may not have the endurance to sit and wait as long as he is expected to. He may not have the academic skills and fluency in these skills that would allow him to complete the assignments.

In short, he may be experiencing demands that are TOO HARD, TOO MUCH, and TOO LONG for his behavioral and sensory levels. Also, he may be experiencing LITTLE or NO positive reinforcement and weak, ineffective academic and behavioral supports.

If so, he is probably experiencing high levels of failure and frustration. The balance of success and failure is tilting too far on the failure side. Instead of imposing too much demand with too little reinforcement, change things around so that the child has demands he can do successfully, plus lots of reinforcement and support.

autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcementSuccess and Reinforcement

It is our job to make sure that our kids with autism get success and reinforcement. I learned from my son that it is really bad to put him in a situation where he experiences a lot of failure and frustration. If he gets big doses of failure and frustration, he gets really mad. Plus, the anger lasts for a long time. If he experiences failure and frustration at 10:00 in the morning, he will still be angry at 5:00 in the evening. Again, you have the sensory issues: the negative emotions are experienced at very deep levels.

I learned from my son how important it is to deliver success: the tasks he is given must be tasks he can do, plus he has to receive a lot of positive reinforcement for doing them. As he does the task more often, he can do it for longer periods of time and gradually take on harder tasks and do them for longer periods of time. It takes a lot of work to build behavioral fluencies in kids with autism: a lot of repetition, a lot of positive reinforcement, plus careful measuring and monitoring to make sure everything is going in the right direction, but the pay-off is worth the effort. When my son experiences success he has truly magnificent behaviors.

TAGteach To The Rescue

TAGteach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) is a quick, easy, and extremely effective way to deliver lots of positive reinforcement to a child with autism, and to keep that important balance firmly on the success side. Observe your child. Tag and reinforce for every possible desired behavior. Keep tagging and reinforcing for as long as he is doing the behavior. Only ask him to do things that he is capable of doing. Only ask him to do things for as long as he is capable of doing them.

Make sure he gets a big heaping dose of success every day. I use TAGteach every day with my son to reinforce good behaviors, defuse emotional outbursts and teach practical skills (please note, emotional outbursts are rare for us now). TAGteach is low cost, easy to learn, and easy to do at home. With it, you can tilt the balance of demand/reinforcement in the right direction (low demand/high reinforcement), at least at home.

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 (and adults) can learn many new skills with TAGteach — at their own pace.

autism, TAGteach, ABA, positive reinforcementFor more information visit the TAGteach website.

Join the free TAGteach Yahoo Group.

TAGteach taggers are available here.

See Martha’s book about TAGteach for Autism or feel free to ask me 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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