TAGteach Learning for Children with Autism

tagteach_group_15 TAGteach is a form of clicker training that uses positive reinforcement to help break down new skills into several, manageable learning steps. TAG stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance.

This program was originally used with gymnasts. If a gymnast had a difficult time learning a repertoire, the repertoire could be broken down in to several smaller, easier to learn steps and reinforced using a clicker step by step. The clicker sound would signal each correct position. TAGteach has been used with dancers, golfers and swimmers to name a few. TAGteach is now also used with special needs learners, including those on the autism spectrum.

How is TAGteach used to teach individuals with autism?

According to Theresa McKeon, founder of TAGteach International,seminar7

“TAGteach benefits the learner because it starts with the teacher. TAGteach is a practical application of behavior analysis but no one needs to know that. It is a game that starts with an achievable goal and ends with success being identified, recognized and reinforced.”

Using a clicker, we can click successful approximations. McKeon explains

“The teacher, whether a parent, therapist, friend or even a sibling can plan out a tag game in advance or just capture desirable behavior when it happens. Rules are easy. When a desired behavior is performed, it is ‘tagged’ with an audible mark (made from a clicker or other noise maker). The ‘tag’ says, “Yes- correct” without the heavy baggage that often accompanies verbal feedback.

“Example: After playing with a toy truck, Tommy starts to put it back on the shelf. His older brother see’s Tommy moving to put his toy away and quickly uses a bell sound from a cell phone app to ‘tag’ this behavior – clearly stating that ‘putting toy away’ is something good – a ‘win’ for Tommy. Tommy knows the tag sound means “Yes!” and reaches down to his belt loop where a string of beads is attached on a key chain. He moves one of the beads down the string of his ‘tagulator’.

“The tagulator is a physical count of the number of tags Tommy has earned this morning. When five beads are pulled, he’ll hand the ‘tagulator’ to his mom and she will replace it with some kind of reinforcer or reward.”

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The clicker allows you to reinforce earlier than delivering a tangible reinforcer and this is key. Always reinforce early, not late. Short tag-teach sessions are recommended.

TAGteach is valuable for verbal and non, or not yet verbal, students alike. McKeon shares

“With verbal students, we can really increase success with a perfectly engineered language set-up called ‘The Focus Funnel’. The focus funnel ensures that the teacher will keep the lesson clear, the instructions short, and the ultimate goal for the student delivered in five words or less.

“Example: The lesson is: always put your toys away so you know where to find them next time. The instructions are: when your finished playing, put your toy on the toy shelf. The tag point is: toy on shelf Tommy puts his toy on the shelf – TAG! After the tag, Tommy can pull a bead or receive whatever is deemed reinforcing.”

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A lot of research has been done and TAGteach has been proven to be beneficial for many learners on the autism spectrum. BF Skinner’s daughter, Julie Vargas, describes TAGteach’s use with children with autism in her book Behavior Analysis for Effective Teaching.

McKeon shares a description of the TAGteach program from one of her little learners,

“A seven year old student with ASD explained it quite well when we asked him, « why do you like the ‘tag’ ? » His face beamed and he threw his hands in the air, « Because I win! Come on, let’s play ».

“There are many examples of how TAGteach can be used to encourage and reinforce learning with children with autism. The most important thing to remember is to have fun!”

You can also learn more about TAGteach for children with autism and take online courses on their website www.tagteach.com and full the TAGteach International blog at http://www.tagteach.blogspot.fr/.