Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The token economy

Disclaimer...(Yes, its a repeat of the last one...but the blog below is new!)

First, let me say that I am not a specialist in Asperger's Syndrome, nor do I play one on TV.  What I write or say are strictly my own personal observations and beliefs, so please do not sue me because I said something that made you do something that caused a misdiagnosis, or created a problem, or made you do something stupid.  Have accountability, go see a professional, and leave my finances alone...besides, you really wouldn't get much anyway, so its probably not worth your time to call the lawyer on the back of the phone book to see if you have a case.  Spend that time more wisely, like figuring out how to subscribe to my blog...and don't ask me about that because I'm not even sure how it works!  Seriously, though, if some of the things I say seem like they sound very familiar in your family, set up an appointment with a true professional.  While you are waiting for their callback, please, continue reading and leave a note!

The token economy...

In a previous post, I mentioned the token economy.  It is really quite simple, but for a family with an Aspie child, it may also be very useful.  I cannot claim ownership of this idea by any stretch of the imagination, especially since I did not think it would ever work to begin with.  Yes, I am admitting I was wrong...I suppose everyone has a bad day now and then.  But after implementing the idea for just one day, I saw the true usefulness of the design.  The best part is that this would probably work with any child and not just those on the Autism spectrum.

The thought is to focus on the positives and not on the shortcomings.  This should be a no-brainer, but far too often we...ok, I can't speak for you, so I will say "I"...focus on the negatives.  How often have we...errr...I mean, I... looked at someone and thought, "Hmmm, they have nice clothes" and overlooked the funky multicolored faux-hawk?  Most of the time, I will overlook the Armani suit and focus on the hair...partly because I am jealous, mostly because we...grrr...I mean I, focus on the part we want to change about that person.  I know I prefer for people to think of me in a positive way, rather than negative...I'm guessing our kids feel the same way.  When we focus on the negative, we miss the positive.  Perception is reality.  Create more opportunities for the positives to break the cycle of negativity...this will work in other places in life too!

So, the token economy really is really quite simple.  In a nutshell, when the child does something good, such as opening a door for someone entering the store, or saying thank you without being prompted, or even putting away his or her dish after dinner without being told to do so, he or she gets a small token.   That token can be anything...perhaps a bead, maybe a sticker, or possibly a piece of paper with a check mark.  Whatever works for your child is what works best.  (I feel like I am channeling Yogi Berra after that last sentence.) The key is to give the token to him or her as soon as possible to acknowledge the positive behavior. Which brings me to the next part...

Have tokens with you at all times!  For me, this is difficult because I rarely wear clothes with pockets when I am lounging around the house...which, lately, seems to be rather often, unfortunately.  If you have the token in your pocket, you can supply the instant gratification for a deed well done.  If you do not give the token immediately and you are like me you will forget about the earned token and the whole concept will fail to launch even before the countdown begins. So, it is worth repeating...have tokens with you at all times!  You are, as much as your kid, a part of the overall exercise here...play your part and you will be rewarded as well. 

Before we go further, let's take a step or two back.  One of the things you will want to do before starting the token economy is explain it to your child.  Once he or she has a grasp on the concept - stress the fact that they will get whatever they want - have them write down 10, 20, 30, 50, 100...whatever many amount of items they can work toward.  If your kid wants a new bike...write it down.  If they want candy...write it down.  The point is to get them to understand the reward is what they want, not what you think they want.  Don't worry if your kid says he wants a Ferrari...we'll get to that later...go ahead and write it down!  Once all items are written on a piece of paper, take a break and go to the craft store down the road.

Our tokens
Once you get to the craft store, find a big poster-board, a few colored pens that will write on said poster-board (Sharpies will write on the board, but are not the ideal choice.  I know this from experience.  Look for poster-board specific pens.  I do not know if they exist, but if they do, buy them.  If they don't, tell me and I will start making some so I can make my millions from this idea), a small divided container, and some tokens.  You might want to buy two types of tokens; a bunch of small ones and a small bag of bigger ones.  We are currently using multi-colored beads for the little ones and stars for the bigger ones.  Each and every positive action receives one small token.  25 small tokens equal one star.  Of course, your system can be tailored to your needs, but you get the idea.  (It was actually Grant's idea to include "bigger" tokens in the plan, and he chose the stars...) Return home with said items and let the fun begin.

Not the best photo ever, but you get the idea
Here is where you can build your safety net for that Ferrari.  Once you have your supplies, you and your child should assign worth to each item.  For example, a piece of candy may equal 10 tokens, a Hot Wheels car is 20 tokens, a new Wii game equals 20 stars, and that Ferrari, yeah, that one is 100,000 stars. In other words, set the worth how you see fit.  At the same time, remember that this exercise is as much for you as it is for your child; rewarding positive behavior results in even  more positive behavior and less stressful times in your home.  Are you getting the picture, now?  (Yes?  Yay!  You get a token!)

When you have agreed upon the worth of each item, have your child write them on the poster-board with the value next to the item.  The poster-board serves as a large visual reminder of the rewards for positive behavior and should, therefore, be visible to your child each and every day to plant the seed.  Having your child design the poster-board gives him or her the ownership.  When your child completes this task, give him or her a small token for starting the process on a positive note.

The small divided box will provide a place for your child to place the earned tokens.  An idea that I had...apparently I was the only one who thought it was a good one, though...is to pick the top 10 rewards and write them on a small piece of paper.  Set the paper in one of the divided spaces so that your child can save for a specific item.  If your child is like mine, this idea will only serve as a reminder of how, ummm... "particular" you are about order and how your child really doesn't care about such nonsense.  Whatever you decide, your child will be happy as a pig in...mud...when he or she gets to place the first token in the box.

Again, keep tokens with you at all times!

My handy dandy token bag I have with me...at all times!
What's that?  You say your child will do things just to get a token?  She/He's still doing them, right?  Reward the good behavior, BUT...tell them that is not how it works.  The token economy is NOT a reward system for chores and it is NOT a payment system for doing things on purpose.  In other words, make sure the tokens are only given when the child does something on his or her own and without being asked.  You can suggest things to earn more tokens, but the reward should be for his or her positive choices.

We have had the token economy in action for a little over two weeks, now.  The first day proved to be a complete turn-around from the previous day. My son was hooked.  Yes, he asked over and over what he could do to earn more, to which I replied, good deeds get good rewards.  Plain and simple.  So far, he still gets excited about earning tokens, and more importantly, he is excited to have his good deeds recognized more so than his negative actions.  Truthfully, his negative actions have diminished substantially since we started the token economy, so there is no need to focus on the negatives.  Our reward is that he is much more pleasant to be around, we do not have to police his every move, and his socks get picked up without being reminded five times!

Design away!
It's not a cure-all, but it really does help to stop a downward spiral.  We had a big meltdown on Day 2 of the system, but overall I see that all of us are feeling better.  He is able to see his own positives again, instead of being bogged down by the negatives.  My wife and I are able to see the positives again, instead of being overwhelmed with worry and frustration.   And by the way -- we didn't have to push hard to start or implement this.  Once my wife mentioned it to my son, he then asked every day for a week when we could get started!  Sometimes, just sometimes, we stumble upon something that works.  Hopefully this is one that will work for you, too.


  1. Hey it's Lexa. Well we like this idea so much that we might just consider it and I think ur right it's every now and that someone has a good idea and everyone agrees.....we MIGHT thanks for the idea....Luv U Uncle Larry. I Miss U.

  2. Hi Lexa! Its a good one to try! I hope it works for you. Miss you too, but we'll see you soon! :)