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Token Economy Programs


A token economy program is another type of positive reinforcement strategy that can be used effectively with learners with ASD. Token economy programs are referred to as such because they are based upon a monetary system in which tokens are used to acquire desired reinforcers, also known as backup reinforcers. For example, learners with ASD receive tokens when they use target behaviors appropriately. When they acquire a certain number of tokens, these can be exchanged for objects or activities that are reinforcing to the learner (i.e., backup reinforcers). Token economies are generally comprised of the following three components:

  • The target behavior/skill is identified and defined.
  • A medium of exchange is selected (i.e., a token or symbol that the learner receives after using the target skill).
  • Backup reinforcers (e.g., items, activities) may be “purchased” after acquiring a certain number of tokens.

Token economy programs can be used in a variety of settings (e.g., classroom, community, home) to help learners with ASD acquire target skills. Team members may find them particularly useful because tokens (a) can be administered immediately following the target behavior, (b) do not interrupt the flow of an activity or lesson, (c) maintain a learner’s behavior over long periods of time, and (d) can be used with several learners at the same time (Alberto & Troutman, 2008). Token economy programs are not effective and should not be used with toddler and very young children since they do not understand the abstract value that tokens hold.

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