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Advantages and Disadvantages of Token Board System

Children with ASD perform better with routines and when expectations are set.

When it comes to working towards a target behaviour we want a child to learn, the Token Board System is often used to encourage and motivate the child. There are different forms of creating a Token Board System and the picture below shows an example of it.

In relation to the picture above, it indicates the target behaviour (hands to self) that needs to be performed and a tick is given whenever the target behaviour is performed. The child would have to accumulate three ticks before receiving a reward (also known as the Reinforcer). The reinforcer given would depend on what the child likes. Some children may value toys, watching YouTube videos or having snacks. A stronger reinforcer increases the chances of target behaviour to be performed. Simply put, Token Board System can be an effective form of motivator.

However, there are pros and cons when using the Token Board System. A child can easily perform the target behaviour due to the presence of reward but may result in reliance on the reward. In other words, this can pose a challenge for children with ASD to separate the task from the reward.

What are the benefits of the Token Board System?

1. Simple, Structured and Concrete

The system provides a concrete way for a child to predict how many more tokens (e.g. ticks) before receiving the reward. When the materials being used with children with autism are structured, they are informed of the expectations (e.g. What needs to be worked on in order to achieve the ticks and eventually the reward) and are able to predict what will happen next (e.g. How many more ticks left to get the reward). The system acts in a way that is straightforward and distinct which potentially increases the understanding of the child with autism.

2. Increase in the frequency of target behaviour

Being informed beforehand that a reward will be given upon completion of ticks is crucial. This increases the chance of the child working towards the end goal to achieve the reward he/she desires. The reward acts as a motivator to the child hence, the likelihood to perform the target behaviour would increase. The higher the value of the reward to the child, the more the child would be motivated to perform the target behaviour.

3. Immediate Reinforcement

When the child has accumulated enough tokens, he/she can exchange for a reward immediately. Delayed gratification is also taught in this instance. Instead of giving the reward immediately, the child is tasked to perform a particular behaviour first.

What are the challenges to the use of the Token Board System?

1. Difficulties in fading the reward in the Token Board System with continuous target behaviour

Children with ASD perform better with routines and when expectations are set. This aids in informing the child what to do next and also helps reduce anxiety. Just like the Token Board System. It indicates how many ticks are required before receiving a reinforcement. However, children may be too reliant on the use of the Token Board System that when the reward is removed, they are unable to perform the target behaviour.

2. Reward is more important than targeted behaviour

The token board system allows the child to get used to working for rewards since rewards are used as reinforcement when a target behaviour is performed. When the reward is removed together with the token board system, the motivation of the child would be distinctively reduced. Thus, without the reward or the token board system, the child would not be able to perform as well. The importance of reward is then presumed to be higher than the targeted behaviour.

3. Unable to generalize a new skill taught

The reliance on the token board system could potentially hinder the generalisation of a new skill taught. For example, a child earns a token for raising hands in school. However, the child is unable to raise his hands when in a different setting such as a day care centre, where no token is given. The child learns to rely on the token to perform an expected behaviour but in most natural settings, tokens are not used to reinforce a behaviour. Hence, it is important to fade the use of the token board system.

Although there are advantages and disadvantages to the use of the Token Board System, there are a few things to take note of when implementing the system. For example, the rules must be clear and concise. It is recommendable that the target behaviour is noted on the token board system. This is to allow the child to be alert of what needs to be focused on in return for a token. Furthermore, the Token Board System can be faded out once the child is able to focus and stay on task.

An alternative method to do so is to slowly increase the number of times a child has to perform the target behaviour before being given a reward. In other words, it is to delay the presentation of the reinforcer. Another way is to limit the time a child can have the reward. Over time, the child would improve on performing the target behaviour with a lesser use of reinforcer.

Written by: Si Jin


Tranculov, L. (2018). The impact of token economy systems on decreasing challenging behaviors in students with autism (Order No. 10812459). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2037314605). Retrieved from

Curtiss, L. (2015). The effects of a token economy on the inappropriate behaviors of kindergarten students with autism (Order No. 1588429). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1682482827). Retrieved from

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