Verbal Behavior Approach: How to Teach Children with Autism and       Related Disorders [Mary Lynch Barbera]

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

TAGteach and Autism

Last spring a friend of mine asked me if I had ever heard of TAGteach. When I said that I hadn’t, she asked me if I knew anything about clicker training for animals. I was familiar with the concept of using audible markers with animals, thinking mostly of the whistle blowing at Sea World to signal to the dolphin that the move was correct and that the dolphin would be receiving reinforcement soon. My friend explained that TAGteach used the same principles of positive reinforcement, conditioned reinforcement and shaping as clicker training. She also told me that TAGteach was being used at her son’s school for children with autism. I was intrigued by the concept and assumed that the “A” in TAG stood for autism but I was wrong.

The acronym TAG means Teaching with Acoustical Guidance and was used first with gymnasts, not children with special needs. It all started when Theresa McKeon purchased a horse in 2005 and had difficulty training it. She went on-line and learned about Karen Pryor’s clicker training technology. Theresa used clicker training until the horse was calmer and then sold it. In the process of using clicker training with her horse, Theresa, a national gymnastics coach, decided that clickers might be very helpful to her young students. When a gymnast had difficulty with a handstand, for instance, the skills of the handstand could be broken down and each skill could be taught separately. When one of the students got her feet to the 12 o’clock position or put her arms over her ears, the coach could click to signal that the position was correct.

In her book, Reaching the Animal Mind, Karen Pryor describes her experience in visiting Theresa’s gym for the first time. After the parents of the gymnasts complained that they didn’t like the use of animal clicker training with their children, Theresa and  Joan Orr (the co-founder of TAGteach) made the decision to change the name to TAGteach instead of clicker training when the technology is applied to humans. This simple semantic change worked to ease the concerns of the gymnasts’ parents and TAGteach began to spread to dancing, golf, other sports and eventually to special education. To view videos of TAGteach from Karen Pryor’s Reaching the Animal Mind web site, go to:

Dr. Julie Vargas (BF Skinner’s daughter) also wrote an excellent book, Behavior Analysis for Effective Teaching, which highlights some applications of TAGteach to children with autism. In addition TAGteach has a great web site (, a Yahoo group, Facebook page, and an excellent e-learning program I completed last summer. I highly recommend the e-learning program and/or a live 2-day TAGteach seminar to anyone and everyone!

In preparation for a symposium on TAGteach at the ABA International Conference in Texas, I used TAGteach to teach my son, Lucas, how to tie shoes.  It took about 1 ½ hours in total over a few weeks and I will be presenting data and this video in Texas. Here is a you tube video as a sneak peak:

To learn more about TAGteach, check out the books listed above and/or For those of you who will be in Texas for the ABAI conference over Memorial Day Weekend, you can learn more about this technology by attending the TAGteach symposium #379 held on 5/31/10 at 10:30am where I will be presenting on TAGteach and Autism.

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