Autism Teaching Strategies for Teaching Higher Language Skills & Keeping Learned Tacts

A common thing that happens when you try to teach children with autism more advanced language skills is that you lose the tacts. Today, I’m going to cover what that means and how to avoid it.

autism teaching strategies

What is a tact?

Just so we’re on the same page here, a tact is a label of something you can see, hear, touch, feel, or taste. You can remember it by coming in contact with one of your senses. When we talk about tacts, and today, we’re going to talk about tacts, we’re going to talk about tacts you can see, so labeling something you can see. We’ll call those visual tacts.

But the ability to label objects such as a phone, a toothbrush, a chair, or a cow is important, and many professionals and parents, once they get those tacts, those single tacts, they really want to try to teach more advanced language. A lot of times, that backfires, and children lose the tacts.

Some common losing the tact examples

Let me tell you about Alex. When I first started with Alex, he was in sixth grade. Shortly after I started with him, we realized that he already had some programming. He could read. He could identify many pictures, but he couldn’t identify features of things such as, I have a phone here as a little prop. He could identify that this was a phone, but we wanted to teach him features, and back …I mean, this was a long time ago, more than 10 years ago when I was teaching him. He could identify phone, so we wanted to teach him receiver, cord, yes, we were using a corded phone, and the buttons as being features of a phone.

I taught the staff how to teach him features, and when I went back a month later, I said, “Alex, what is it?” He said, “Phone, cord, receiver, buttons,” just like that. I was like, “Oh my goodness. We lost the tact. We lost his ability to just say phone because we were focusing so heavily on the features.” This happens a lot with kids when you try to teach them features, the function of something, or the class of something.

Another common example is young kids when you teach them cow. Right away, you’re going to be trying to teach them the animal’s sound. It’s just the way we try to encourage language. A child then, instead of labeling cow might label “moo-moo” or “moo-moo says the cow,” which parents and professionals are like, “Well, a cow does say moo-moo, but I didn’t ask what a cow said. I asked what it was,” and the child saying “moo-moo said the cow” is not functional.

Another really common example is toothbrush. When I hold up a toothbrush, most intermediate learners will say “brushing teeth” instead of “toothbrush.” That’s what I mean by losing the tact, is focusing too early on features, functions, or class, and not keeping that tact, that label of the single object strong.

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To fix things with Alex, we needed to focus on the whole thing, what’s the whole thing called, what’s this, a lot, like three to five times, and then we would just focus on one part. “What’s this part called?” He would say “cord.” “Good.” “What’s the whole thing called?” “Phone.” We might put the phone away, then. Focus on a different thing. Then we bring out the phone. “Hey, what’s this called?” “Phone.” “Now, what’s this part called?” “Receiver.” We needed to change our teaching so that Alex could stop, just rotely saying “phone, receiver, cord, buttons.”

When teaching kids with autism, keep these in mind!

Let’s review some autism teaching strategies when teaching autism children. With animal sounds and animals, we want to make sure a child has cow, cat, pig, duck, horse before we go embedding animal sounds. When you are trying to do animal sounds, the best way to teach it is to have a few pictures of different animals on the table, and then do more fill-in-the-blanks, like “meow-meow says the”, have them say “cat.” That’s the best way to teach that, but then at the same time as you’re working on animal sounds, don’t forget to just go through the pictures and make sure the child just can say cow, cat, horse, pig. It’ll be really important as you go forward.

When we teach actions to avoid the brushing teeth when the child sees the toothbrush, we don’t want to combine brushing with the object or brushing teeth versus brushing hair. We really want to just teach brushing and lots of different actions before combining things.

In general, it’s a great idea to be aware of the importance of keeping the tact strong as you teach features and other higher language skills.

If you’d like more helpful advice on where to start or how to revamp your child or client’s ABA program and join me on my mission to turn things around for 2 million kids by 2020, go to, and sign up to get my new three-step guide. I’ll see you next week.

Ready to learn more and turn things around for your child or client with autism? Sign up for my free 3-step guide!