Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Token Economy

A token economy is a specific system of behavior modification based on systematically using positive reinforcement. The initial reinforcer is a token, or some other item with no intrinsic value, which is later exchanged for other, more tangible, reinforcers.

The usefulness of a token economy system is that it allows for an immediate reward for a behavior while at the same time helping the child see that the reward can be even more significant in the future. It also gives the child more control because they can decide to cash in the tokens or save them up. One reason I really like this sort of system is that it allows for mistakes. No one is perfect and kids are going to have bad days. As a child is first working to change their behavior it can be frustrating when they have to get let's say stickers three out of five days, but their week starts out horribly and the mess up the first three days. They have no motivation to behave in the remaining days. A token economy allows for more flexibility and leaves room for bad days.

So here is how you do it:

  • Set goals for your token economy. A token economy is a tool which strives to modify inappropriate behavior and achieve specific goals. These goals can be behavioral
  • Take time to include the child in setting and defining goals
  • Begin by targeting only one to three goals so that the child is not overwhelmed
  • Set point or token values
  • Give a token value to each goal. You may choose to make each goal of equal value or to weight values. In the latter case, values should be assigned with respect to the difficulty of the goal
  • Determine time intervals for assessment. Intervals at which goal attainment will be judged and points will be awarded need to be determined before initiating the token economy. A good rule of thumb is, at the onset of the token economy, the interval should be half as long as the child is able to go without displaying the inappropriate behavior. Gradually, time intervals should be increased.
  • It is important that tokens are awarded contingent upon achieving the pre-specified goals.
  • Keep track of points or tokens earned. Keeping track of tokens earned can be done in many different ways. This allows the child to see and assess his or her progress.The child should always be able to find out how many tokens or points they have earned. Here are some suggestions:
    1) Tokens: Give the student(s) the tokens they have earned or put them in a spot where they can deposit them.

    2) Points: Using a point system is very valuable when targeting more than one
    behavior or goal. The child can see which goals they are reaching and in which areas they can still improve.
    4) A chart can be posted in the house
    in which the child's points are tracked. In this way, a child can see his or her progress over time. Keeping formal records is very important. This will help prevent misunderstandings and disagreements about the rules.
  • Decide on how the child can spend the tokens. A reward menu is typically the best way to do this. Assign each reward on the menu a point cost. Make sure you have a range of rewards.
Some people include a response cost into the token economy, which basically means that they take tokens away for misbehavior. While this can be done, I recommend avoiding doing so if at all possible. Remember that the overall goal here is to reward positive behaviors not to punish negative behaviors.

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