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Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

October 07

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Token Reinforcement Systems

Token reinforcement systems are useful classroom and therapy tools to increase appropriate behaviors. In such a system, a token (e.g., penny, sticker, etc.) is given following appropriate behavior, and after a predetermined number of tokens are collected, they can be traded in for a back-up reinforcer (e.g., candy, toy, interactive activity, etc.).

In the classroom, token systems are often helpful in providing a less obtrusive form of reinforcement. Token systems may also be utilized to gradually delay the child's access to a more powerful reinforcer. Thus, the child may earn tokens as immediate reinforcers but later trade them for something more powerful, such as a trip to the store.

A token system requires three basic elements: 1) small, countable items, 2) a back-up reinforcer, and 3) a clearly defined behavior. Some may be familiar with the commonly used token system in which pennies are placed on a clipboard with Velcro. However, there are many ways to make token systems more individualized, based on a child's interests or skill level. Some ideas include:

  • Place smiley face stickers on poker chips and attach them with Velcro to any sturdy surface.
  • Laminate stickers of favorite characters and attach with Velcro to a laminated coloring book scene. For example, a picture of train tracks through the countryside may have several Velcro dots. The student can earn Thomas the Tank Engine stickers to place on the tracks. When the whole train is on the tracks, the student can access the back-up reinforcer.
  • Use letter tiles from a Scrabble game or letter magnets to spell a child's name. When the child has earned all of the letters in his name, he can trade them in for a back-up reinforcer.
  • Draw enough boxes on a piece of paper (or dry-erase board) for each letter in the name of the back-up reinforcer (e.g., 7 boxes for "popcorn"). Write one letter in a box for each correct response.
  • Take a picture of the reinforcer and enlarge it to 5x7 or 8x10. Laminate the picture and cut it into puzzle pieces (or glue onto foam board and cut into puzzle pieces). Give one puzzle piece for each correct response; when the puzzle is complete, the student gets access to the item in the picture.
  • Make a copy of a coloring book page. On one copy, color the background, but not the main characters- leave them in black and white; laminate this page. Color the main characters on the other page and cut them out, laminate and attach with Velcro. To reward the child for appropriate behavior, give a color character to place over a black and white spot. When the whole scene is completed, the student can access the back-up reinforcer.
  • Use carpet squares as stepping stones. Place them in a line between the student and the reinforcer. Allow the student to step on another square for each correct response, leading him closer to the reinforcer.
  • Using a favorite puzzle, give the student a puzzle piece for each correct response. When the puzzle is completed, the student can access the back-up reinforcer.
  • Place pegs in a peg board for correct responses. When the board is full, the child can have the back-up reinforcer.
  • Earn coins for correct responses. Assign prices to back-up reinforcers and allow students to buy them.
  • Use a game board (such as Snail's Pace Race) and move game pieces closer to the finish line for each correct response. A picture, or the actual reinforcer, can be waiting at the finish line.
  • Place two glass jars on the table or teacher's desk. Fill one jar with marbles, and tape a picture of a reinforcer on the other jar. Following appropriate behavior or correct responses, move marbles from the first jar into the second. When the second jar is full, students can access the reinforcer.
  • Use pieces of the back-up reinforcer as tokens. For example, after each correct response, add a segment of train track to the track on the floor. When the tracks are completed, the child can play with the trains.

Be creative and let the child's interests lead you in the development of reinforcement systems. Most of all, have fun!

Anne Faraher
Lovaas Institute – Northern New Jersey

Do you have an experience with a creative format to typical programming? Share them with us here

The names of all children in this newsletter have been changed in respect for family confidentiality.

On the Lighter Side...
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Stayin' Alive! Break out your best John Travolta Disco imitation.


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