In our "Bribery" post, we made mention of token systems. Many of you might already know what a token system is, but I bet there's still a thing or two you may not know regarding this method of delivering reinforcement. Come one, come all, and let's explore these systems together.
Token systems serve a multitude of purposes. One, they provide a method of reinforcement using what's called a "generalized conditioned reinforcer," which is the token. These tokens are traded in for other reinforcing items, such as trains, trips to the park, or a milkshake with dad. You get the idea. Does this sound familiar at all? It should! Money is also a generalized conditioned reinforcer. It's not the money itself that's reinforcing, but the items that you can trade the money in for that makes it what it is.
A second purpose of token systems is that they provide a timeline for when reinforcement might occur. It helps knowing when you might earn that train or milkshake, and having tokens provides a visual of your progress towards earning that reinforcer. Be sure the tokens are provided for very specific, observable behaviors (i.e. "Way to go, look at you sharing your toys with you sister!"). Also, avoid statements like "Good job" especially when using them in isolation. What made the "job" that "good?" Be specific with your praise, and label the behavior that you're reinforcing (i.e. "Good job washing your hands all by yourself without even needing a reminder!").
You might be wondering, "how should I use a token system and why should I use one?" Obviously, you can make a token system using a number of materials like construction paper, buttons, a paper and pencil, etc. You can also use your smart phone or tablet by downloading an app like iReward which can be used to deliver tokens right on your phone. The next question is related to the why. We've seen token systems make a tremendous difference in the lives of our clients and their families. Not only are token systems helpful for clients, but they also keep families and staff on track by delivering reinforcement consistently and systematically. The token system itself is a stimulus in the environment that evokes the delivery of tokens by families and staff. It's good for all involved!
There are special considerations regarding the use of token systems. For example, teams should consider the age of the client using the system. We once had a dad say, "We're really glad that we made the switch to Patterns. Please just keep us away from using one of those star chart token things." His son was 12, and he thought it was really inappropriate to be using this system that looked like it was made for a young child. He was right! The principles of reinforcement should still apply, yet the method and "packing" of the system needs to be tailored to the individual.
The bottom line is that there's a gamut of good reasons to use a token system. They can keep kiddos motivated, families and staff on track for delivering reinforcement, and they're easy to use. Needless to say, if you have questions or specific feedback, comment below and we can dialogue together!