Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Getting responses using a token economy

David is in a specialist ASD unit attached to a mainstream school.  He's making progress, it's brilliant.  One of the key difficulties David faced with education was/is his self direction. David was interested in doing what David wanted to do and this not only made it difficult to teach him but even harder to evaluate what he knew and could do to start with.

This was focused on by having a simple target to getting David to follow adult instructions.  It didn't matter whether we asked David to touch his nose, put a cup on the table or pick up a ball, what mattered was he got used to the idea of systematically following instructions from an adult.

This was/is being targeted using token economy at school?  Eh, he's nearly five, isn't economics a bit of an advanced subject for him?  Indeed, token economy is actually a type of reward system.  Usually I'd be very suspect of reward systems, reward charts were completely useless when potty training David for example. But, I've a lot of faith in our specialist and it seems to be working. 

David receives tokens every time he successfully followed an instruction but this could be for any behaviour or desired outcome.  Although the tokens can often be an effective reward themselves, in most token economy systems, children are working toward a number of earned tokens which time they can trade in for something better, a reinforcer of somekind.  It's a bit like earning money and spending it on something you want.  In David's case this is playing with an IPad. 

David may be sat doing a puzzle but if he touches his knees when asked by a member of staff he gets a token.  If he points to the man when he is asked, he gets a token.  If he does anything when asked in a specific setting, he gets a token. Then he gets the IPad.  Pretty soon David understands it's good to do what he is asked. 

David can work for up to nine tokens now without needing his 'reinforcer'. It's not just for his education and at school that this has been helpful.  I can't believe he puts his yogurt pot in the bin. Or gets undressed (sometimes) or puts the IPad away. If you've read 'why sharing gingerbread men is truly amazing' you'll know what I mean.

Our current challenge appears to be that David has a limited number of reinforcers, he's only interested in the IPad and a few other toys or items so runs the risk of getting bored with his reward.  Whilst the school work on finding David something else he's willing to work for, I'm having lots of fun with David. I get tokens of his affection for free by requesting lots of kisses and I can get him to wiggle his cute nose anytime I ask. 

So, token would definitely be the word of the week. 

Our blog - Why sharing gingerbread men is truly amazing

External links
The Autism Helper - The token economy, dos and don'ts


  1. So happy you are seeing positive results. Wrinkled noses are so cute!

  2. Good that the system looks to be working for him #SSAA

  3. It's great that the token system is working on your son. 😀 And it's also nice that you are getting lovely tokens from him as well. #wotw

  4. This sounds like it's really working and making a difference. I hope the school manage to find other incentives that he'll enjoy working towards soon, and yes, enjoy those kisses in the meantime :) Thanks for sharing with #WotW

    1. That really is how big to be the challenge! It's also about finding something that the other kids like too so he can do sharing it as a token reward too. Will have to see what they come up with!

  5. I love that the token system is working for you. We started off with First and then boards, and we speak like this to our soon too. The iPad is all Ethan is interested in, I'm so glad these have been invented. It does limit things though as you don't really want them on the iPad all of the time x

    1. I know what you mean. David often just likes to hold the iPad, like a security blanket. How are you getting with the the now and next boards? We could only get them to work for short and 'worthwhile' activities for ages eg. Take shows off, then go in the gym.


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