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Expressing our wants and needs through verbal or nonverbal communication is what we call expressive language. Unfortunately, many kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) struggle to effectively use expressive language, making it hard to communicate their feelings. They may not talk much or at all or find it challenging to start or keep a conversation going. Not only is this language barrier frustrating for the child and their loved ones, but it can also lead to behavioral issues like crying and temper tantrums.
Verbal Behavior (V.B.) therapy teaches children with autism the power of communication and language. Applying the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis and the theories of behaviorist B.F. Skinner, this approach encourages children to make a connection between words and their purpose to gain desired objects and results.
For instance, the adult points to a photo of a cow in a book and asks the child, “Do you know what this is?”.
The child replies, ” cow!” to which the adult beams, “Excellent work! That’s right, it’s a cow!”
In addition, this teaching method emphasizes not simply labeling words (cat, car, etc.) but understanding why and how they are used to make requests and express ideas.
What is Tacting in ABA Therapy?
Tacting is a fundamental skill that enables us to communicate by labeling and naming objects, actions, and events. It is how we categorize the sensations we experience – whether it’s something we see, smell, touch, or hear. Young children typically begin their tacting journey as early as infancy, when they start to name the things and people in their environment. In fact, they often label hundreds of objects before mastering adjectives, adverbs, and other language features to express themselves in complete sentences.
Principles of Tacting
Three main principles of tacting must be followed to succeed
- The first principle is that tacting must be done consistently. This means that the same verbal cue should be used each time a behavior is reinforced. For example, if you use the word ‘close’ to prompt your child to turn off the faucet after they brush their teeth, you can’t switch to the word ‘shut’.
- The second principle is that tacting should be done positively. Verbal cues should reinforce desired behaviors rather than punish undesired behaviors. Positive reinforcement is an effective way to shape behavior as children are more likely to repeat rewarded behaviors.
- The third principle is that it should be done in a timely manner. After the behavior is exhibited, the verbal cue should be used as soon as possible. Timing is crucial as it helps children with autism understand the consequences of their actions more quickly.
How Do You Teach Tacting?
In a previous article, we delved into Manding in ABA therapy, which is an ABA term for “requesting for reinforcers.” This is the ideal language for kids to learn first since it directly rewards them for using their words: if they ask for something, they will get it! Therefore, it’s no surprise that children are usually highly motivated to master Manding.
Once your child has learned a few mands, you can introduce them to tact training. Start with items your child can mand for so that they stay motivated. Avoid overly rewarding things, like cookies – your child may get upset if asked to label the item without receiving it. Instead, opt for everyday items that a typical child would recognize in their environment.
When instructing your child on labeling (tacting), asking the right question is crucial. For example, you might ask, “What is it?” Remember, however, that reinforcing with praise – such as, “That’s right! It’s a car!” – is a must. Moreover, resist the temptation to give your child the item after the correct response, for this isn’t a request (manding). It’s a label (tacting).
Once you pose the question “What is it?” to the child, don’t hesitate to give them the answer – “What is it? A car!” – and reward them with praise for repeating your words. This is especially relevant to low-functioning children with little or no verbal ability. However, as they gain mastery over tacting, you’ll need to slowly fade your prompt so they can take the next step. Generally, this means ceasing to give the child the answer and waiting for them to label the item by themselves. For some kids, you may need to provide a slight vocal hint, like “Kuh” (the beginning sound for car).
Think of how parents rejoice when their baby’s first words emerge. It’s the same with tacting. Consistently reward and encourage your child when they speak – even if their articulation is not perfect. Your little one’s communication skills will only improve with positive reinforcement and ongoing support.
Many kids will start to name things they observe without needing to be asked, “What’s that?” But others won’t. To encourage their independence and enhance their vocabulary, try omitting the question and simply presenting the item, waiting patiently for the child to name it.
The Benefits of Using Tacting in ABA Therapy
A strong vocabulary is essential for a child’s development, allowing them to express themselves better. In our daily lives, we use an array of nouns, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs when communicating. In addition, a large bank of ‘tacts’ helps children to make more specific requests and understand how to use language in different situations. Tacting also provides caregivers with invaluable insight into a child’s internal state (i.e., feelings of pain, joy, hunger, etc.), which may otherwise be difficult to detect.
The benefits of using tacting in ABA therapy include:
Tacting helps children learn to recognize and respond to verbal or physical cues, which increases communication skills and the ability to interact with others.
Improved academic skills
Tacting can help children learn basic academic skills such as counting, matching, sorting, and problem-solving.
Increased self-help skills
Tacting can help children learn daily living skills such as dressing, hygiene, meal preparation, and cleaning.
Improved social skills
Tacting can help children develop skills such as turn-taking, asking for help, and following instructions.
Increased leisure skills
Tacting can help children develop skills related to leisure activities such as reading, drawing, playing games, and participating in sports.
Increased safety skills
Tacting can help children learn safety skills such as crossing the street, avoiding strangers, and recognizing danger.
Tacting As A Tool For Behavior Modification
Overall, tacting is an effective behavior modification technique that can help children develop a range of skills safely, effectively, and efficiently. It can also be helpful to understand the ABCs of behavior while applying tacting to behavior modification.
There are a variety of different approaches to tacting in ABA therapy. For example, some methods use verbal cues to respond to a stimulus, while others use physical cues.
Physical prompts mean you physically move the child’s hand or body to complete the response. This is sometimes referred to as hand-over-hand prompting. For example, if you want the child to pick up a ball, you move their hand to it and guide them through moving it off the table. Partial physical prompts mean you still touch the child but provide minimal physical guidance. For example, you may touch the child’s elbow to begin the movement, but the child leads more. For example, if you want a child to touch blue, you move their elbow toward the blue card.
Gestural prompting means giving a gesture or movement that shows the child what to do. This could be making eye contact, pointing, or looking at a specific item. For example, if it is the child’s turn to participate in the conversation or answer a question from a peer you might make eye contact with them and nod.
Modeling involves showing the student the correct response. For example, if you tell the child to clap their hands, you clap your hands.
Verbal prompting can take many forms; even within this type of prompt, there are ways to increase independence. Verbal prompting involves providing some kind of verbal language to cause the correct response. A direct verbal prompt gives the exact answer. For example, holding out a flashcard of the letter B and saying, “say B” is a direct verbal prompt.
What matters is finding an approach that works best for the individual and the particular skill or behavior being taught. Use modeling and prompting to help your child understand the desired behavior and become more likely to imitate it.
Get Started With ABA Therapy!
Following tacting programs in ABA is a tried-and-true method to teach children with autism how to communicate better. It is an integral part of successful ABA therapy, based on the principle that behavior is shaped by its consequences. By using consistent verbal cues, positive reinforcement, modeling, and prompting, children with autism can learn to recognize their environment and the consequences of their actions. If your child can benefit from learning to tact, and you live in New Jersey or Massachusetts, you can get help from local autism specialists. We will work 1:1 with your child and always include parent training in our ABA programs.
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