Behavior Reward Systems for Students with Autism

Posted by Debbie

Feb. 28, 2017 in Behavior

Children, just like adults, like to be rewarded. The difference is, the way a child with autism views it can look a whole lot different than the way we see it. Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked with both highly complex learners with great behavior concerns, as well as children who have special learning needs, all with some type of behavior reinforcement needed. Although some can be similar, no two behaviors are exactly the same, which has led me to experiment with a variety of reward systems. Some worked better than others, but here, I will save the best for last.

Types of Reward Systems

Token Economy

A “token economy” system is simple to create and implement with your students. As an example shown here, there are a pre-determined number of spaces, or slots where a coin, object, or picture card can go. It can be designed in a vertical or horizontal position and works well with both pictures and objects. The primary goal here, is for the student to “earn” a token each time a task, activity, or successful transition is completed. The token can either be a symbol, word, or picture of an item, or the reward the student is working to earn. Real coins work best with kids who do not put objects in their mouth.

When the reward is earned, a new incentive, or even the same one, will try to be earned again. Make the system attainable for the student, so they will participate and recognize that he or she has earned the reward and acknowledges the positive achievement.


A checklist is an easy way for older students and those that may transition out to a General Education classroom for part of the day. Checklists are used to help a student with organizational skills, but can also be used effectively to increase awareness of positive behaviors. In this case, with the sample shown below, the student places the daily sheet inside of his binder. It conceals it, so the child won’t feel awkward carrying it from place to place. The goal that this student has chosen is computer time with a friend in his class. This list contains ten activities that were agreed upon with his teacher and the student himself, to create a greater level of “owning” it. The things he must accomplish include not only academic work, but behavior goals, too, such as “Go to speech with a good attitude.” Once each is task is finished, the student can check it off and is on his way to earning the reward.

Student/Teacher Reward System

THIS is my personal favorite method to reinforce positive behaviors in our classroom this year! My students this year have delays in learning, coupled with some mighty big behaviors. This is NOT the typical reward system, as THE TEACHER acknowledges ALOUD when a particular student has done a kind deed (it can be as small as picking up a piece of paper for another classmate), or is working on task. The student does not actually know when he may “earn” a token (a visual peanut in this case!), as it is a very observant teacher who captures the moment! Then, with a round of applause from the peanut gallery (pun intended!), the student who has earned the “peanut” is honored by his peers and teacher with a compliment (“great job!”), perhaps a round of applause, and if ten peanuts are earned, then he heads to the prize wall!

I am going to tell you, in all honesty, that my kids LOVE this! It has also shown them when to say “thank you”, and for others to know that complimenting someone for a job well done, makes YOU feel good, too. Here’s how it works in our class. I may see Joey working independently and is on task (peanut earned). Jenna may have stacked another student’s chair who went home early (peanut earned). Students cannot ask for peanuts to “feed the elephant”, it is an adult who decides.

For our blog readers and newsletter subscribers, please download this reward chart and the sheet of peanuts to share with your students and parents. Just print on white card stock paper and laminate. Add velcro to place the peanuts on the chart and mount all student charts together on a wall. Remember, a kind deed or words, “expected” behavior in school or at home, or a task completed, can all earn a peanut.


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