Thursday, February 23, 2012

Update on the Token Economy

Once again, it seems I wrote an entry a few months ago and neglected to post it.  I'm blaming it on the ADD again (See?  ADD can be useful in so many ways!).   So, without further ado, here it is...

A little over a month has passed and our token economy (TE) is in full swing.  I thought it would be a good idea to give an update for any of you interested in wondering how it is working.  In a nutshell...better than expected, but also in need of some fine tuning.

When my wife and I started the TE, we went out of our way to give tokens for every possible good deed that our son performed.  We were diligent, excited, and probably a little over-the-top about what we deemed token worthy.  The idea was to get our son to realize how easy it was to earn a positive mark when positive actions are made with hopes that he would continue the positive behavior on his own.  I am happy to report that it has worked...well, it has, at least, improved his morale and everyday behavior.  Like any of us, he has his good days and bad, but overall, the TE has worked. 

My son has asked, on a few occasions, how he could earn more tokens.  My answer to that question was a simple, there is no way you can earn tokens other than by performing good deeds, doing the right thing because it is the right thing, or from well-intended actions that are from your heart.  Performing tasks to get tokens will not earn tokens.  In other words, you earn the tokens, you do not get them. 

He did not understand this concept at first, but eventually grasped the idea.  When he did something token worthy, we would give him a token and say something along the lines of, "You did a good job of putting your socks away without being asked, here's a token!"  If he asked for a token after he put his socks away, he wouldn't get one.  He learned quickly, and now does not ask for tokens.  The idea is to reward good behavior because of his good choice, not because he made a choice to earn a token.  Little by little, he began to understand - bad choices get bad consequences (steps) and good choices get good consequences.  

I have seen some variations of the token economy where the parent will make a list of token chores, or they have explained what tasks will be token worthy, but we decided to separate the two and concentrate on allowing our son to think for himself and make positive, ethical, decisions.  The chores are still a necessity, but they do not earn tokens; chores are done because that is what families do - work together.  We also have jobs that he can do that are neither token paid nor are they chores; he gets real money for those...when he does them...or rather, if he ever does them (that is another blog-worthy story for a later date).  So, tokens are earned for taking out the trash when it becomes full without being asked, or putting away the clean dishes from the dishwasher without being asked, or being polite despite being in a crabby mood, and so on.  Tokens are earned with his positive thoughts and actions.

As I mentioned above, the first few weeks we showered him with tokens.  When he reached his first milestone - changing 25 tokens for a star - we made a big celebration for it and praised his ability to reach his goals.  He was excited, of course, and was ready to spend his first star.  I am going to blame my ADD and because I have slept since then, but I do not remember what his first "purchase" was. wife just informed me that his fist "purchase" with his stars was a model that he and I can work on together.  Hmmm, now I feel like a bad parent for not remembering THAT one!  In any case, he was very excited to make a run to the local hobby store and pick out a model.  The token economy came full circle.

UPDATE: So, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, I wrote the above (well, most of it, anyway) months and months ago but forgot to publish it.  Since then, the token economy still works and is alive and well.  Our son does not receive as many tokens now as he did when we first started the system, but not because of his poor choices; on the contrary, actually.  His smaller good choices are now a part of everyday life...most of the time - he still has moments, like all of us do, but all-in-all, he is making good choices on a regular basis.  As a result, we are trying to get him to think about constant self-improvement, so token worthy choices have now become things like, looking at people when he talks to them, or better yet, looking at all of the people involved in the conversation instead of focusing on just one (not an easy feat for an Aspie); or maybe a token worthy action might be to have a fuss-free weekend instead of a fuss-free afternoon.  He has graduated from getting a token for picking up his socks without being asked to earning a token for putting away his socks, coat, shoes, and dirty clothes - without being asked, and he earns five tokens for receiving a 100% on his science test (actually, he even did the extra credit and ended up with 110%!) instead of a token for turning in his homework on time.  Something that has not changed, however, is how he earns tokens - we decide based on his choices not because he did something just to get a token.

In summary (I've always wanted to say that outside of a school paper...), the system works.  Follow the directions, stick to it, modify it how ever you want, but try it, you'll like it (especially if your kid's name is Mikey - sorry, had to do it).  If you stick to the overall concept and stay on it early on, I think you will be amazed at the outcome.  Although this practice works great for Asperger's kids, I imagine with a little modification it would work equally as well for any kid...and maybe some adults, too!  (Actually, my wife is giving two hours off to her staff next week IF they all meet a specific deadline...token economy in action in the workplace!)

Let me know how it is working for you...assuming you are trying it, of course!

As always, thanks for reading! 

Disclaimer...(Yes, its a repeat of the last one...but the blog above 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!

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