Today, I’d like to present an important behavior management strategy that, as a parent or teacher, should be part of your “tool-box.”
Token Economy: A token economy is a system in which an individual earns tokens for desired behaviors. Once he has collected a predetermined number of tokens he can trade them for an item or activity of his preference.
Tokens begin as essentially neutral stimuli, of little significance in themselves. However, as the tokens become increasingly associated with the reinforcers for which they are exchanged, they become motivating in themselves.
Money is probably the token economy system that is most well-known. There is nothing intrinsically motivating about it. However, because we can use those green papers to buy what we need and want, they can become extremely reinforcing.
Token economies can be used to meet a number of educational and behavioral goals for children:
· Increased ability to delay gratification: Token systems are a great way to build a child's ability to wait for reinforcing items or activities.
· Lessened satiation: By increasing the number of responses necessary to obtain a reinforcer, token economies can lower the rate at which the child becomes satiated with a particular form of reinforcement.
· Increased teaching rate: Rewarding a response with a token is quick, and allows for speedy, more fluid instruction. In most school settings, it's uncommon to see teachers walking around handing out Fruit Loops, or passing out raffle tickets after every correct answer. Using tokens to delay the presentation of those more obvious reinforcers can be less obtrusive in the classroom.
· Increased selection of reinforcers: Because reinforcement is being delivered after several responses rather than after each response, longer-lasting, possibly more reinforcing items or activities could be chosen for reinforcement. As an example, if one were conducting quick verbal drills, it's probably not effective to use a video as a reinforcer for each correct response. But, if a child finds a video especially rewarding, he may be willing to work for several tokens to earn a chance to watch.
What does a token economy system look like?Token economy systems can take on a wide variety of forms. They can range from very simple, short-lived systems to much more complex systems that require the child to work for days or even weeks before earning his reward. For examples visit: https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1242&bih=599&q=reinforcement+charts&oq
Punch card: Cammie was a girl who was constantly talking out and interrupting the proceedings. A punch card was introduced to help address those issues. Cammie was given punches if she was sitting and listening appropriately. After 18 punches she got a piece of candy and moved on to the next activity. As she progressed with the card, the interval between punches was extended, until she was working at five or more minutes between punches.
Puzzles: I've used puzzles successfully with children with autism and typical primary school kids as well. Take a picture of the preferred activity or item, let’s say computer. Laminate, cut in pieces (the number of pieces varies from child to child), and add Velcro. The child gets a piece of the puzzle for each correct response and can earn prizes for completing the puzzle. On top of the final prize, the puzzles are motivating in themselves.
Money: Money can make a very good token system for kids, especially older kids, where stickers and such might not be as appropriate. Working with money is a very functional skill, and using money as a token system lends itself to lots of great math concepts (making change, budgeting, etc.). For instance, you could set the price for a jump on the trampoline at five nickels, but might only hand out pennies as reinforcement. The child needs to figure out when he's got enough pennies to make a nickel and cash them in.
Guidelines for creating and using token economy systems
· Token systems should clearly provide a visual representation of how much the child has accomplished and how much more he needs to accomplish before reinforcement is delivered.
· Token systems are most effective at maintaining positive behaviors when they are specific to each child, address specific behaviors, and clearly communicate the expectations and rules to the child.
· As when using any reinforcement, choice should be as big a part of your token systems. With simple systems have the child choose the item or activity he'd like to be working towards. With more complex systems you may have a "menu" of reinforcement posted along with the prices of various items (bubbles might cost 15 tokens, a video 60, a trip to McDonald's 150).
· Pair verbal praise with the presentation of the token. Giving a "Good sitting!" or "Great reading!" will remind the child why he is getting the token and, when tokens have been established as secondary reinforcers, can help establish social praise as a reinforcer as well.
Daniel Adatto, BCBA