Using rewards

Using rewards with an autistic child

Rewards can be controversial for some. There are also children that it doesn’t work with however both my boys respond well to rewards and they can be really helpful when teaching new skills. It can also be a great visual support for providing praise. Many children really benefit from positive reinforcements, in this post I will look at how we can use rewards.

What is the reward?

In order to make sure your child feels rewarded you need to know what your child wants. Every child will have different preferences- it can be anything from food to things like tickles. This can be hard to determine with some young children. So the first step is to understand what motivates your child.

PECS Phase 2: Distance and Persistence

Visual aids are really important for many autistic children. Now and Next boards are a good place to start with visual aids as they are straightforward. 

Token rewards

Collecting tokens or stickers to earn a reward is a great way to reward behaviour over time. We use the PECS UK Make a Deal system.

Tokens PECs, commenting with PECs

When you are introducing a reward system you need to make sure that it is in a way that the child will be able to understand. So to start off you will need to have only 2 or 3 tokens to get the main reward. The first few times you need to give the reward quickly.

An example to introduce the token system could be to:

  • ask the child to come to the table (good listening – here is your first token),
  • ask them to sit down (great well done – here is token 2),
  • then ask them to touch their nose (great here is token three you now get a biscuit).

You need to make sure you are asking the child to do things you know they can easily do so they can see the process of collecting and cashing in their tokens for the reward.

As the child gets used to the system you can introduce more tokens and make them harder to earn. Over time this builds up and now we can use it for things the children don’t like doing such as cutting fingernails and he will get a token for each hand and foot and when all four are done he gets the reward. Having the picture of the end reward is a great way to refer back and remind the child why it is worth collecting the tokens.

Rewarding new skills

One way we may use rewards is when we are trying to teach a specific skill. A good example is toilet training.

Rewards with an autistic child

Having a chart that rewards the skill you are trying to teach in small steps can work really well. For my youngest we started by giving stickers for just sitting on the potty and now that his skills have progressed he is collecting for weeing in the potty. The chart is on the wall (at his eye level) in the bathroom so he can see it.

Most children respond well to rewards and deals. When a child has something they don’t want to do like getting their haircut it is a good idea to reward them after they have done it. We always get milkshakes after the boys get their haircut and use visuals to make sure they know that is what will happen from the start.

Personalised reward charts

My son is very into Zog so he collects ‘golden stars’ that he sticks onto his toilet chart. Making it personalised makes it more interesting to your child.

Whatever chart or system you use it needs to be relevant to the child. It is no good having a long list of written chores for a child that cannot read and doesn’t understand what is on the chart. Keep it simple and only build up when you know your child is ready.

You can buy lots of great reward charts but I always find the best ones are individualised. You can easily make up charts that you can print out at home. If you google ‘printable reward charts’ or ‘printable token boards’ lots come up that you can use or adapt based on your needs. I would recommend using a laminator, you can find tips in my post about making up PECS cards.

Challenging Behaviour and Rewards

The use of rewards should be about teaching skills and your child progressing. The reward should be to support your child in acknowledging their achievements. This in itself can be a skill that needs to be taught. My son couldn’t care less about collecting stickers or tokens when we started. However when he started to realise this might get him chocolate or iPad time he was interested. Now he is older I can see he is proud and happy when he is praised and rewarded, its fantastic to see his giant smile when he gets another sticker for his chart

You can pick up some great stickers in supermarkets or the pound shop.

Here are some reward charts you can buy from Amazon:

This post contains affiliate links, if you purchase from one of these links I may receive a small commission. this is at no additional cost to you and it supports my blog so thank you

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  1. 8th May 2019 / 8:50 am

    This is wonderful to read. J responds so much better to visuals than verbal cues so we have lots of reward charts, now and next and visual tuleboatds x

  2. 9th May 2019 / 4:48 pm

    Very helpful and informative for lots of parents. We have definitely found that for most children with Pathological Demand Avoidance though, rewards is a very tricky area to navigate and doesn’t quite work in the same way x

    • admin
      13th May 2019 / 2:12 pm

      There are definitely children out there that rewards just doesn’t work for and PDA kids would find it particularly difficult. Unfortunately the only way we can find out what does and doesn’t work is trying it out. Thankfully this is something that has worked with my kids.

  3. I definitely like the clear visuals, though my feelings on rewards are mixed. We do use them in some ways, for example, I usually offer my son a drink and a snack at the table when asking him to come and sit down to do a learning activity of some kind. It’s not given to him as a reward for doing the work, but it’s there as an incentive to sit down with me. It also prevents the issues that low blood sugar levels can cause (as in lack of patience, concentration, being “hangry”, etc).
    When he was younger, we did a form of ABA inspired therapy (not the strict old fashioned ABA, but based on similar methods), and incentives/rewards were an integral part of that, but I wasn’t 100% convinced about the ways they were used. I think the things we ask our children to do should preferably be meaningful and in context. So for example, when you said that there was a token for coming to the table and then another one for sitting down, I think it would have been more constructive if the third one was also relevant to the situation? Also, in my son’s case, I think he would possibly remember a thing like that for next time I ask him to come and sit down at the table, so he’ll come over and sit down, and then slap his head expecting a reward againg for that sequence.
    So yeah, I find rewards a complicated thing. I’m not totally against them as they’ve been a huge help for us too in some ways. But I prefer it when I can find intrinsic motivation rather than external rewards, if possible.
    Also, as Steph mentioned above, not all kids respond positively to rewards, and sometimes they can spark anxiety. There’s no one size fits all. I still think some of the suggestions in this post can be really helpful for some families though x

    • admin
      13th May 2019 / 2:21 pm

      Thanks so much for bringing up these important points. Using rewards does become a complicated area particularly in relation to some ABA therapy. I think they need to be used for the right reasons, as parents there are things that we need to do with our kids (i.e. nail cutting) that they don’t want to do and a reward or incentive to do this can be very helpful for some kids (mine included). However if used to change behaviour unnecessarily such as for giving eye contact is not the best idea. For me it is the use of visuals to support the understanding of now and next and rewards use that has helped us the most. I take the point about the token example, really this was just to indicate how to get started but some kids will expect things to be the same. My son still puts stickers on his forehead as this is what we did the first time a sticker was introduced! All of the suggested reward / token systems in the post work well most of the time with my kids but we have days it doesn’t work. Personally I find the more we can have up our sleeves the better and for some rewards makes that difference. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts its so important that we remember all kids react differently and what works for one may not for another.

  4. 15th May 2019 / 9:34 am

    Some lovely ideas here and things I will definitely try with my new son! Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time!

  5. ERFmama
    15th May 2019 / 10:48 pm

    Some really great tips here and I will look closer at it at a later time. I think some of this might help my daughter, who does struggle a bit with her understanding (she’s 8) and very quickly gets overwhelmed.

    Thanks so much for sharing!


    • admin
      15th May 2019 / 11:30 pm

      Well worth trying I hope it helps her x

  6. 16th May 2019 / 9:22 am

    Really useful and can imagine beneficual with the visual cues X #kcacols

  7. 17th May 2019 / 2:52 am

    I believe in the reward system. It definitely makes a child eager to do more things. I am not good at keeping up with them. #KCACOLS

    • admin
      17th May 2019 / 9:32 pm

      Its hard to keep up with long reward systems. I do prefer the more instant rewards.

  8. admin
    20th May 2019 / 3:30 pm

    It’s funny how different your approach needs to be with every kid. My youngest just told me off for not giving him his sticker for doing a wee!

  9. bread // queer little family
    23rd May 2019 / 9:37 pm

    I love the visuals. It’s simple and effective and really clever. #kcacols

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