When implementing a token economy, there are always three necessary steps to ensure effectiveness:
1) What behaviors are you rewarding? This will depend on the ability of the child. For early learners, it may be appropriate to reinforce behaviors surrounding compliance (i.e., scanning the stimuli, remaining seated at the table, following one-step directions). On the other hand, with more advanced learners, it could be more appropriate to reinforce behaviors that are tied more to their therapeutic and academic programming.
2) How often are you providing tokens/ how many tokens do they need to earn? How often you provide tokens directly impacts the likelihood of the child engaging in the target behavior again in the future. For example, for early learners first learning to work in a DTT setting, tokens may be provided on a 1:1 basis to better establish the contingency between tokens and later access to the reinforcer. If you provide tokens too sparingly (on too thin of a ratio), the child may lose motivation to engage in the behaviors you were previously reinforcing. Similarly, the goal of earning 20 vs. 6 tokens directly influences motivation to continuously engage in the target behaviors. If they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, then it may not be worth working for!
3) Is the object or activity that the child is working for really reinforcing? If the child is working for an item that they aren’t entirely motivated by, using a token economy can become irrelevant. The point of administering tokens is to get a child closer and closer to gaining access to something they really want! The tokens themselves aren’t inherently reinforcing, and if the motivation to get the final reinforcer isn’t there, the likelihood of a child engaging in the behaviors that accesses tokens decreases.