Saturday, January 16, 2010

Autism: A Mother's Story

In 2004, Martha Gabler attended one of the first TAGteach seminars, hoping for help in teaching and managing the behavior of her son. A year and a half later Martha wrote to us telling of the success she was having and in a more recent update Martha sent us this photo and wrote this:
Can you imagine how difficult it would be to manage him (at that size) if he were still darting around like crazy, could not respond to his name or other verbal instructions, and had all those other horribly difficult behaviors of the early years? TAGteach has played a huge role into changing him into a manageable and delightful teen.

This is a wonderful success story and we are very proud and pleased that Martha was able to take the concepts and strategies we teach at our seminars and apply them to her interactions with her son.

Here is an excerpt from Martha's original report. The full article contains many useful details that hopefully will help others who are struggling with the challenges of raising a child diagnosed with autism. You can download the whole thing by clicking here.

A Letter from Martha Gabler: Writing from the trenches of the autism war…

I believe TAGteach has tremendous potential in helping children with autism, particularly in helping parents manage the often difficult behaviors of these children.

I am the parent of a 10-year old boy with severe autism who is non-verbal. Since learning about TAGteach approximately 1 ½ years ago, his behaviors have become much more manageable. Here are some of the reasons I love using the TAG, and some of the ways I have used it:

Reasons for liking TAGteach –

First, of all behavioral interventions generally available, TAG is by far the least expensive! We all know how much an ABA program costs, however, with a $1.35 tagger and a pocketful of candy treats, almost anyone can do positive behavioral intervention. Just read the back of the tagger: it says “TAG, don’t nag,” and this is all you need to do!

Second, anyone can learn to TAG a child with autism in about 5 minutes: just watch the child, wait for him/her to do ANYTHING positive (turn towards you, touch a toy, touch a book, stand nicely, sit nicely, jump on the trampoline, open a door, look at the ringing phone, say a word), then TAG and treat. What a great way to supervise a child! So quick, so simple, so easy to teach to a teenage babysitter or (if you are really lucky) a relative or friend who is willing to help you with your child.

Third, TAG gives parents a strategy for managing a child during those many, many times when we have to deal with truly horrible, unimaginable behaviors.

Examples of how I have used TAGteach--

I have used TAGteach successfully to teach my child to go on long walks, navigate through parking lots, go to the grocery store, fall asleep at night, and reduce verbal stimming.


Here is an example of how you could use TAGteach with such a child at the playground. Now the playground can be a very high stress environment for a kid with autism -- lots of loud, shouting, running kids, lots of strange contraptions, and your own parents who are urging you to climb up that scary ladder and go down a slippery slide. Armed with your tagger and treats, start tagging every single “good” muscle movement that he/she makes. Child looks at slide, TAG! Child takes a step, TAG! Looks at bird, TAG! Turns (even partially) toward you, TAG! Puts his foot on a step, TAG! Reaches for a bar, TAG! After a while, the child will calm down because he is being reinforced for whatever he is doing, no one is pushing him to do things that are scary, and he can begin to rely on the clicking sound for information. Karen Pryor writes very eloquently about how the tagger is far superior to the human voice in conveying information to a learner because the click sound does not carry all the pesky emotional information that is embedded in a human voice. With no emotional input to deal with, the child can focus on what he/she is doing and learn that putting his feet on the first step of the ladder will earn lots of tags, and maybe going up another step will continue to earn tags. This is a great way to calm the child, encourage him/her to explore, and it eventually becomes a communication medium between the child and the person doing the tagging. This type of interaction opens the way to communication. I have even had my son come over and tag himself if I have forgotten to tag him for something good that he has done – it’s as though he is saying, “hey Mom, I did this great thing and you forgot to tag me!”

In conclusion, TAGteach has helped us manage some very difficult behaviors, and I firmly believe that it has huge potential to do even more for our kids – we just have to be diligent and creative about using this wonderful method. Even more important than the specific behavior issues noted above, the whole TAGteach methodology can quickly give parents (who are usually not board-certified behavior analysts) an effective and inexpensive way to look at the child’s behavior and think about reinforcing whatever positive actions that child is doing, and stay focused on reinforcing good behavior. Once parents have this concept, they can more easily deal with the many distressing behaviors that our kids with autism exhibit.
Click here to download the whole article

More of our blog posts related to autism

TAGteach Autism web page


  1. When I try to access Martha's complete article or the TAG teach autism web page, I always get an error message when I click on the links above. Is there some other way to access these?

  2. Thanks for letting us know about that! The links are fixed and you will be able to access the full article now.