Rewards are a great way to help teach children. All children benefit from positive reinforcements. It is important that any therapy, teaching method or activities you choose to use with your child are positive and not harmful.
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.
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.
What is a Now and Next Board?
A Now and Next board is a small board that displays two icons or pictures. The first shows what you are doing now and the second picture shows what you will be doing next.
You can buy Now and Next boards but they are very easy to make up yourself.
If you use the board regularly they will quickly become easily understood. Typically you will use them to show a work activity or something they may need more convincing to do followed by a desirable activity. For example Dinner followed by TV or having your nails cut followed by iPad time which is the reward. You can also use the boards for general daily routines.
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.
When you are first 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 pat their head (great here is token three you now get a piece of chocolate).
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 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.
One way we may use rewards is when we are trying to teach a specific skill. A good example is toilet training.
Having a chart that rewards the skill you are trying to teach in small steps works 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
Many autistic children have special interests and using this interest to engage your child is really helpful. If your child loves minions then have pictures of minions on their reward chart, or use minion stickers. My son is very into Zog so he collects ‘golden stars’ that he sticks onto his toilet chart.
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 could’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.
If stickers don’t work try the now and next board or tokens. Some children will struggle with rewards systems and take some time to get use to them. If its really not working I would go back to the start and reconsider the reward you are offering. If you continue to struggle with challenging behaviour it may be important to look at identifying the root of that behaviour first.
You can pick up some great stickers in supermarkets or the pound shop.
Here are some reward charts you can buy from Amazon:
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