A Simple Strategy to Increase Desirable Behaviors

I wanted to share with you an effective strategy that My Autism Specialist turned me on to earlier this year.  It is meant to help reduce undesirable behaviors or increase the frequency of desirable behaviors.  It employs the use of yellow cards and I have effectively used the strategy with both Toby, my 13-year old son with Autism and my 9-year old son, Zeke, who is typically-developing.

I was talking with My Autism Specialist, Joy, about some behaviors the boys were displaying that I wanted to eradicate.  Some examples of problem behaviors were:

  • Inappropriate dinner conversation
  • Complaining about picking up dirty clothes
  • Complaining about putting away clean clothes
  • Complaining about doing homework/reading
  • Not sharing toys with each other
  • Not turning off lights when leaving the basement
  • Complaining about eating foods they didn’t like
  • Not asking to use the computer before playing on it
  • Lying
  • Not waiting to talk***

Let’s focus on the last one, which is a huge pet peeve of mine.  With me, if two adults are speaking, a child should not interrupt the conversation unless he or she is acknowledged by one of the adults.  To me, this shows a lack of respect for others.  It drives me NUTS to be in the middle of a conversation only to have Toby or Zeke come in and say “Dad  Dad  Dad”  and then to begin tugging on my sleeve “Dad Dad Dad.”

Initially, I would ignore this for a few seconds and then look at them and sternly say “you are being very rude.”  Then I would continue the conversation making them stand there until there was a lull in the conversation when I would address them.

Joy said to me, “why don’t you use a rewards system?”

Yes, sure, I can do that.  What is it?

She said to set it up like this:

  • Reward the boys with tickets for displaying the good behaviors or the absence of the undesirable behaviors.
  • The tickets are collected and when they reach a set number, they can trade it in for the “prize”.
  • The tickets are to be handed out randomly and not on every display of the desired behaviors.
  • The system needs to be explained to the boys as well as what types of behaviors will be awarded tickets.
  • The kids cannot ask for the tickets, even if they have displayed the appropriate behaviors.  If they ask for a ticket, they are not given one and reminded about this rule but they are still praised for their behavior.
  • The awarded tickets need to be kept in a container that is highly visible so that they are constantly reminded about them.

I had some bright yellow paper of post-card thickness so the color of the cards is arbitrary.  I cut up the sheets into little 4”x3” cards and used them.

I determined the point system to be 5 yellow cards can be turned in for $1.00.  Both boys are motivated by money and are working on learning about saving money.  There is a reason for this that I have written about previously.

I bought clear, plastic cookie jars with lids for each of them and labeled them with their names.  The cookie jars were placed on the kitchen counter.  [They also ended up as their money jars since they placed the earned monies in the jars.]

I waited for an opportunity when I could hand them each a yellow card for displaying desirable behaviors.  Upon handing them the cards, I explained the rules to them as described above.

Very early on, they each asked for yellow cards after they displayed good behavior.  When they did this, I reminded them about what happens if they ask for a yellow card and then praised them for their behavior.  Shortly thereafter, they told Joy about the yellow cards and said to her “We can’t ask for the cards though.  Dad needs to give them to us.”

They got it.

When I first began implementing the system, I would award Toby with a yellow card for not interrupting adults in conversation.  This is in lieu of the “punishment” of telling him that he was being rude.  He probably earned this card about a half a dozen times before it became standard for him to not interrupt.  Then, I began to fade it.  Now, he doesn’t interrupt adult conversations and he also doesn’t get a card for it.

Complaining has been one behavior that this system has been instrumental in eradicating.  You can see above that “complaining” made the list four times!  It bothers the heck out of me.  I used to punish the boys when they complained about doing something.  Now, by rewarding the absence of complaining with a yellow card, the complaining has all but ceased.

Many of the behaviors above have been removed by this strategy.  I believe that if I were better at implementing it, all of the above behaviors would be eradicated.

This tactic has been extremely effective and within weeks you will see the elimination of problem behaviors if you are using the system effectively.  Try this out and report back to me in a month or so. I would appreciate hearing how well it has worked for you!

Post a comment here or send an email with comments or questions to myautismspecialist@gmail.com.

Thank you for reading.

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2 Responses to A Simple Strategy to Increase Desirable Behaviors

  1. Autism Spectrum Directory December 30, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    This method of behavior management works because your son is learning by association rather than by observation of the behavior you want him to change. I have posted an article to my blog about how people on the autism spectrum learn at http://autismspectrumdirectory.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/how-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-learn/

  2. Elizabeth January 6, 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    That is called positive behavioral modification. You are modifying their behavior. Here is a hint. Post the rules in a visible place (like the fridge) along with what behaviors are rewarded. Word it in positive ways like, 1 ticket for waiting your turn instead of 1 ticket for not interrupting. Emphasize what behaviors you want to see.

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