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Token Economy


What is it?

A token economy is a system where individual students, a school or a class, earns tokens for one or more target behaviours. Once a predetermined number of tokens have been earned, students can trade them for a desired reinforcer/reward.

When do you use it?

A token economy is used when there is a need to increase the frequency of desired behaviour or decrease the frequency or undesired behaviour. Determining reinforcing items, providing choice of reinforcers and establishing attainable goals all increase the likelihood that a token economy will succeed.

Tips for implementing a token economy:

  • Show the student what the desired behaviour looks like. For instance, “Good working” looks like sitting at the table and completing work. Teaching may include use of pictures, modeling, or video models. It should be clear to the student what they need to do to earn tokens.
  • Introduce the token board with a task the student has mastered. The initial goal is to learn the routine and receive the reinforcer.
  • Prior to beginning work, allow the student to select a reinforcer. A choice board is an effective way to display a variety of reinforcers and allow the student to chose what they are working toward.
  • Initially, teachers can ensure success by limiting the number of tokens to be earned. Slowly and gradually increase expectations.
  • The difficulty of the task must be appropriate for the learner. If they think the tasks are too hard or too long, teachers should consider ways to adapt the learning to ensure success.
  • When the student performs the desired behaviour, immediately place a token on the board.
  • Always place the token on the board in view of the student and pair with verbal reinforcement (e.g. “Awesome job!”)
  • When the final token is earned, immediately provide access to the reinforcer.
  • As the student becomes more familiar with the token economy, allow the student to place their earned tokens on the board.
  • Do not take tokens away. Instead of removing a token for inappropriate behavior, prompt a replacement behavior (e.g. requesting a break) or alternative behavior that will lead to them earning a token (e.g. by successfully returning to working at the table).

Allyon, T. & McKittrick, S. (1982). How to set up a token economy. TA: Pro-ed, Inc.

Rhode, G., Jenson, W. & Reavis, H. (2009) The tough kid tool box: Straightforward, classroom-tested, ready-to-use materials for managing and motivating tough-to-teach students. OR: Pacific Northwest Publishing.

Token Board. Retrieved June 20, 2018 from Texas Autism Circuit: http://autismcircuit.net/tool/token-board