Using token economies in a special needs or inclusion classroom will be a way to deter unwanted behavior, achieve academic goals, and reward positive changes in children with autism. A token economy is one of the easiest and cost effective classroom management strategies to establish, and it provides an effective visual for kids to monitor their progress toward a goal or skill.
What is a token economy? This article will attempt to answer this question, and provide a starting point for teachers who are interested in adopting token economies in their classrooms for students on the autism spectrum. Teachers may find that a token economy system is equally effective with students who do not have disabilities.
A token economy is a system in which children receive tokens (tickets, stickers, coins, etc.) every time they successfully achieve a desired behavior or task. The tokens, themselves, are an effective reward in many cases, but in most token economy systems, children are working toward a predefined amount of earned tokens, at which time they can trade these in for an even better reward.
In order for this classroom management strategy to be effective for a child with autism, the rules of the game must be clear, and the reward must be something the child is really interested in. It may not be a simple toy, but a much more complex reward depending on the child’s intense interests. For example, the child may want to visit another teacher that he loves, or may respond well to extra computer time.
Token economies establish a visual routine that kids with autism will really appreciate. This classroom management strategy also allows the teacher to get much more creative with the actual reward. Instead of awarding a meaningless trinket for every good deed, the kids are taught to work toward a larger, more desirable goal. Teachers might even expect to see increased patience and the development of a more positive work ethic.
At first, a token economy system can be used for general participation and good behavior. Teachers can create a token board for each student that will provide a great visual of progress. The token board can have a space to place each earned token, with an established number of spaces that need to be filled in before earning a reward. This number might be small at first, and increased over time.
The token board can be very colorful and the tokens can each have pictures of the desired behavior on them. Tokens can be sticky, or have Velcro backings, so that they can be easily attached to the board. Alternatively, a punch card can be used instead of a token board, or a coin holder might be a great idea if the tokens are coins.
If possible, offer the kids a choice of the reward they can earn. Perhaps a teacher might want to establish reward levels and have kids earn a small reward, or keep the tokens and save up for a larger one. The token reward system can be changed as behaviors are achieved, and new skills or behaviors need to be worked on.
A token economy works well as a classroom management strategy for kids with autism because it is very visual and it offers the child a simple reward system that better meets his unique needs. But the benefits don’t end there. Token economy systems build confidence, patience, and demonstrate the meaning of the phrase, “Good things come to those who wait.”