Using TAGTeach to Teach Children with Autism

TAGTeach is a methodology that can be used to speed up skill acquisition in children with autism. In today’s video blog, I’m discussing how to incorporate this into your child or client’s programming to get more effective skill acquisition.

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Today I’m sharing a small excerpt from podcast number 27 which is an interview with Theresa McKeon discussing TAGTeach. TAG is an acronym for Teaching with Acoustic Guidance. One of the things that Theresa used with the gymnasts was the clicker. In the beginning, it was just this fun toy. They all wanted to use it. They all wanted to, what we call TAG or put that acoustic mark to the other person. And then one day one of the kids said, “My mom uses that with our dog and she said, you can’t train us like a dog.” Theresa said, “Well, I am actually training you as a respectful teacher because all we were doing was deciding as teachers what we wanted and then, in a very quick nonemotional way, letting the student know that they had performed the skill and then said, yes, that’s what we want.”

At the time Theresa had originally tried to give them little chocolates or something, but what she found was they’d say, wait, let me just do this again. So she thought success was what is reinforcing, right? When you want to do something right at the moment that is the most reinforcing thing. You want to do it again. Now, if you’re teaching people who don’t want to learn, that’s a little different scenario. You have to work with different reinforcers. But Theresa was really lucky because the one thing they wanted to do was succeed and if she could tell them that instant they succeeded, that that was just amazingly reinforcing. They want to do it again and again.

One of the things that stuck with me, when I heard Theresa’s story of creating TAGTeach, Teaching with Acoustic Guidance, to work with humans, is when they went to do a handstand and when they got their legs completely up to the right position, that’s when she or another child could be watching them and then the click would happen. The audible click would happen so that they knew, yes, I got up to the very right position. It’s a very instant response. You could only be there for a split second or if you’re trying to do a trick like a round-off or a cartwheel or whatever you’re marking or clicking for one behavior that is really good.

The clicks really broke it down for the gymnasts and they were able to even click each other and give feedback to each other. So instead of just a group of 10, 10-year-old girls watching or really just chatting with their neighbor while they’re waiting for their turn, they were actually focused on, “this is my learner pair, I need to watch Susie and give her the click at the appropriate time.”

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We call it peer tagging. The peers are tagging each other and what we found was not only are they not out bouncing off walls or not paying attention but they were focused on the very thing that they were then going to have to do. So they were mentally practicing it by watching and saying, yes, that was it. We knew that they could understand what was going to be expected of them because if they clicked at the wrong moment or for the wrong skill, we thought they don’t know what we’ve asked them to do, even visually to see it so how can we ask them to do it physically? So it was a great skill for us to monitor whether the athletes knew what they were supposed to do and what position. Or what is the 90% angle that we wanted and if they marked at the right time or clicked at the right time, we knew that at least intellectually they knew or visually they knew what the trick was. We got double learning and double practice.

What really stuck in my mind was that visual of the girls chatting with each other versus really on point and marking each other’s behaviors. And I think there are a few studies, I believe there are at least 2 studies wherewith children with ASD did peer tagging studies for social skills, like when they would see somebody smile, they would tag with each other, with peers.

TAGTeach has also been useful to help kids with autism in the sense that it has helped people with autism by helping parents or people who work with them to more clearly define what it is they’re looking for and because it is that one mark, if you’re going to click it as a single instant that is that you’re looking for. So it helps the teachers say, I’m only looking for one thing and I’ve already decided what that is. Then on the other side, the children are not getting mixed messages. You’re very clear about what you’re looking for and what’s acceptable and what is going to be reinforced.

Some of the things I’ve also used TAGTeach with for kids with autism including my son is articulation, eye contact, handwriting, and really any skill. I did a study and presented at the ABA conference with Theresa and it was so funny because I had taken the online course, the TAGTeach online course back in 2009 and this was a couple of years after I wrote my book. I had been a behavior analyst for 5 years and I had taken the online course because it seemed once I heard Theresa’s story about the gymnasts and a lot of my clients at the time were completely non-vocal and not understanding directions. So I was just thinking about how do I reach those kids quicker, more effectively, and more efficiently.  So I took the online course and I really, I really loved it back then. I mean it was 10 years ago and I remember it was just very laid out. It was not for behavior analysts, but it’s really general, basic and general.

I hope you enjoyed this short snippet from the podcast. If you want more content, check out the podcast at marybarbera.com/podcast.  Wherever you’re watching this, I’d love it if you would leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up, share this video/article with others who may benefit, and for more information, you can attend a free online workshop at marybarbara.com/workshop and I’ll see you right here next week.

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