We talked about token boards and how they help reinforce good behavior during Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy sessions. But there is a way you can improve on the token boards and other reinforces to make them as effective as possible. Your therapist should use some of the following methods to help your child move forward through their skills quickly.

When offering a token or sticker for each completed task, your therapist will ensure it is given as soon as the child completes the task. It is here reinforcement will be the most powerful, mostly due to instant gratification. If you promise a treat later for doing something they were asked to do, the behavior change will not be as rapid. This is why stickers and tokens on hand are such an amazing tool, there’s no wait period.

The stickers, token or reward must also mean something to the child/teenager. If the reward isn’t very exciting, then it’s not motivating. Sure they might do it for the benefit of getting a sticker, but they’d do it with more gusto and energy if that sticker was of their favorite cartoon character and not a gold star.

The therapist should give the treat frequently. It would be a little ineffective to tell your child, ‘if you behave all day you can get a sticker.’ Not only is that unrealistic (who doesn’t make mistakes? What child doesn’t misbehave once or twice?) but the goal is out of reach, and the reward isn’t tangible. It’s not something they can easily imagine themselves receiving. Giving your reward frequently reminds your child how awesome it feels to get it.

The therapist should also make the reward exciting with the use of social engagement. Compliments, hyping up the gift, and being as positive about the reward as possible are some examples.

Another mistake newer ABA therapists make is turning the reward into a negative. Instead of saying, ‘if you don’t do X you won’t get this’, the therapist should say, ‘if you do X you will get this cool sticker!’ In an upbeat happy tone. Now the sticker is exciting, the praise is rewarding, and the outcome is something they want to work towards.

Just think about how it feels when someone tells you that you can’t have something unless you do as they say. Instantly we evaluate if we want that thing anyway, which makes us less likely to be happy about getting it. This is just human nature. One simple change in language can do a lot for any child.

ABA therapy is such a simple therapy really when broken down. From the outside it can be confusing and even a little scary at first, but when we look at it from a common sense angle, it’s little wonder why this therapy is so vastly used in all sorts of fields. Tokens, and stickers are nothing new, and if you ever have any issues with how they are used you can always ask the advice of your BCBA certified analyst or therapist.