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Implementing a Token Economy
By Justin Gerwick

When working with children with special needs, it can often be helpful to utilize as many options as possible when attempting to encourage desired behaviors and/or decrease the frequency of undesirable behaviors. At New Story West Region schools, one new tactic that is being implemented into the school day is the use of a token economy.

A token economy is built around the idea of rewarding desired behaviors with a form of currency. In New Story’s case, the behaviors will be rewarded with tokens, which can be exchanged for items or activity time. Some examples of desired behaviors can include: remaining seated, raising your hand instead of speaking out, and keeping hands and feet to yourself.

Desirable behaviors are built off of the STARS system. STARS stands for: Set Goals, Be a Team Player, Be Accountable, Be Respectful and Be Safe. While the STARS system should guide behaviors, some basic rules can be followed when selecting target behaviors. Targeted behaviors must be observable and measurable, students must be aware of the behaviors that will result in receiving a token, don’t target too many behaviors at once, and ensure the student is capable of engaging in the desired behavior.

The token economy encourages desired behaviors in two ways. First, by obtaining a reward for acting appropriately, students receive immediate feedback on which behaviors are or are not desired. Second, the rewards give the students something to work toward. In order to maintain effectiveness of the token exchange, highly preferred items and activities must remain at a higher price. This will keep the student motivated to continue earning tokens. For example, 10 tokens may be able to purchase five minutes of computer time, while 50 tokens may be able to purchase ice cream and 15 minutes of play time.

 As students become familiarized with the token economy, desired behaviors should become a more natural occurrence than inappropriate behaviors. As students continue to show success, fading of the token economy should begin to take effect. New Story’s hope is always to be able to improve a student’s behavior to the point where the student is able to return to his or her home school district. Fading of the token economy can be done several ways, including gradually increasing the purchase price of items, decreasing the amount of time per day that the token economy is in effect, and/or increasing the number of responses emitted required to earn a token.

Hopefully, the students will respond to the token economy to the point where they will display desired behaviors even when the token economy isn’t in effect or even outside of school time.

New Story is a licensed, private school which offers a special education academic learning environment and multiple therapeutic services to help children achieve success while coping with emotional and behavioral challenges. For more information, visit www.newstory.com or call (412) 373-5235.

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