Reinforcement happens constantly in our daily lives. It’s in the monthly paycheck you receive, the compliment from a friend that lights up your day, or that soothing coffee break amidst a hectic work schedule – these are all examples of reinforcement in action. Some reinforcements are predictable, while others require more time and effort.
In ABA therapy, our primary objective is to gradually transition from constant reinforcement to a more natural occurrence. The token board is one of our most effective tools for achieving this transition.
A token board is a collection of tokens or points a learner accumulates over time. Once they’ve collected all the tokens needed, they earn access to a reinforcer.
For instance, let’s consider Johnny. He has a token board with 10 tokens. For every correct response he gives, he earns a token. Once he’s gathered all 10 tokens, he can enjoy 2 minutes of playtime with his favorite cars. It’s a simple, yet powerful, method of creating a reinforcing environment that motivates and encourages positive behavior.
Read on as we go deeper into what token boards are, why they’re helpful in ABA therapy, and how to implement and use them effectively. Here’s what you’ll learn in this post:
- What is a token board?
- Why are token boards effective?
- How to implement token boards
- What comes after a token board?
What is a Token Board?
Token boards are an essential tool in ABA therapy that can help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder learn, develop new skills, and promote positive behaviors.
An ABA token board is a visual and tangible behavior acquisition system, which involves giving the child a “token” when they display positive behavior. These tokens are accumulated on a board and can be exchanged for a stronger reinforcer, making it a perfect example of a secondary reinforcer.
Pro tip: Want to make reinforcement even more effective? Pair it with a token! This way, your words of encouragement also transform into powerful secondary reinforcers.
Why Are Token Boards Effective in ABA Therapy?
Token boards are a positive reinforcement tool used in ABA therapy to encourage a child to work towards a specific purpose or task by earning tokens or points for positive behavior.
These tokens serve as motivators and encourage a child to continue exhibiting correct responses or completing tasks, leading to a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. Ultimately, ABA token boards are effective for several reasons:
Not only does the physical act of adding tokens to a board provide visual reinforcement for behavior, but token boards serve as potent visual aids for learners, indicating when a reinforcer or break is available.
Imagine having a picture or the actual item a child is striving for; it serves as a powerful reminder of the delightful reinforcers that await. Additionally, ABA token boards subtly illustrate which responses were accurate and which missed the mark.
For instance, if the child is supposed to “touch the car,” a token is earned only when the child independently and accurately touches the car. If there’s no action, prompting is required, or a different object is touched, the learner won’t earn a token. It’s a clear and compelling way to reinforce positive behavior and learning.
Fade Reinforcement Over Time
In the initial stages of therapy, we often use highly preferred items and activities (such as food, tickles, favorite toys) to reinforce every correct response. However, as the learner progresses, we aim to gradually reduce this immediate reinforcement. That’s where the magic of the token board — a secondary reinforcer — comes into play!
The tokens themselves become a reinforcer, allowing us to scale back the preferred item or activity to every 5-10 responses. This incredible tool paves the way from constant tangible reinforcement to more intermittent, social reinforcement, making it an essential part of advanced learning strategies.
The beauty of the token board lies in its adaptability as a child matures. For a younger child, it could be as simple as earning a favorite song or a wind up toy for every five tokens. But for an older child, it could evolve into a point system where collected points throughout the day can be exchanged for a preferred activity, like computer time.
Pro tip: Always keep realistic expectations. Children differ in their tolerance for waiting; some may need to fill up their token boards faster, while others can wait longer. It’s essential to dispense tokens at a rate that’s appropriate for each child.
For instance, an older child might be able to work through a token board for over 30 minutes of homework. But for a younger child, you might want to design the token board to last just 5 minutes. This ensures that the token board remains an effective and motivating tool for positive behavior reinforcement.
How to Implement Token Boards in ABA Therapy
The first step in implementing a token board is identifying the specific behavior or goal you want to encourage in the child. It could be taking turns, following instructions, or completing a task. Once you’ve identified the behavior or task, you can create a token board that aligns with it.
When to Start Using a Token Board
While there’s no set age to start using an ABA token board, it’s often most effective with learners who understand the concept of first/then or cause and effect — “First I do something, then I get something.” After some time, the token board is usually used during more difficult tasks.
Pro tip: Ensure that the reinforcement aligns with the effort. For instance, for a young child who fills up their token board in 5 minutes, a suitable reinforcer could be a minute of playtime with their favorite toy. However, an older child who diligently works for 30 minutes should receive a more substantial reinforcer, like 5-10 minutes of video game time.
What Should the Token Board Look Like?
A token board can be as simple or elaborate as you want it to be — it could be a simple chart with Velcro dots or a themed board with favorite characters. The key is ensuring it’s visually appealing and exciting for that particular child.
But don’t worry — setting up a token board doesn’t have to be a daunting task. It can be as straightforward as drawing ten circles on a board and filling each one with a smiley face to represent a token.
The design isn’t as crucial as the consistent implementation among all instructors and the clarity of the message for the learner:
- Tokens are given for _________ (specific behavior)
- When I collect all my tokens, I receive _________ (chosen reinforcer)
- I need ___ (number) tokens to earn a reinforcer
You might consider writing these “rules” directly on the token board for children who can read, so they always know what they’re working towards.
Pro tip: To keep things fresh and engaging, consider having a variety of token boards ready to go and switch between them as necessary. Or, you could deviate from the traditional token board and use marbles in a jar or a collection of toy cars as tokens. Remember, the goal is to make learning enjoyable and rewarding!
How to Introduce a Token Board
Backward chaining is an effective strategy we love to use when introducing the token board.
- Start by presenting a nearly full token board, with just one token missing.
- As you’re about to reinforce a correct response with a primary reinforcer (like popcorn), add the final token and demonstrate to the child that they’ve earned the popcorn by filling up the token board.
- Gradually, have them work towards earning the last two tokens, then the last three, and so on.
This approach ensures that the child understands the connection between correct responses and reinforcers while avoiding reinforcement of any challenging behaviors.
Pro tip: Be mindful not to inadvertently give a token during or immediately after challenging behavior. For instance, if the child responds correctly, but then tosses the materials…pause, re-present the trial, and avoid reinforcing the challenging behavior of throwing.
What Comes After a Token Board?
Token boards can be used in any environment — at home, school, or a therapy clinic. In each environment, the child should clearly understand the token board, how it works, and what it aims to achieve.
But what comes after a learner has mastered the goal?
Once a child has mastered a skill using a token board, it’s time to move to the next step – fading. Fading means gradually reducing the frequency of tokens given until the desired behavior becomes a natural part of the child’s repertoire.
After fading, let’s face it: kids might not always want to carry a token board around everywhere they go. So, what’s the next step when they’re ready to move beyond it?
That’s when we introduce new concepts like behavior contracts and potentially even a self-monitoring system. These tools foster independence and personal accountability in learners, marking an exciting new phase in their development journey.
Remember, ABA token boards aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. They should be customized to meet the unique needs of each child.
A successful token board plan requires a good understanding of targeted behavior, clear expectations, simple visual representation, meaningful reinforcers, and ongoing monitoring and communication between the therapist and the child. With patience and consistency, token boards can be a powerful tool for students with ASD.