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How Do You Reward a Child with Autism?

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Have you ever wondered how you can motivate your child with autism to learn new skills and exhibit positive behaviors? For many parents, finding the right balance between encouragement and motivation can be challenging. One effective strategy that has shown promise is using reward systems. But how do these systems work, and what makes them particularly beneficial for children with autism? 

Imagine a young boy named Jake, who has autism. Jake loves trains, and his face lights up every time he sees one. His parents noticed this and began using his love for trains as a way to encourage positive behaviors. With each act of cooperation or accomplishment, Jake would earn a train sticker, and eventually, a trip to his favorite train station. This simple reward system transformed Jake’s daily life, making routines smoother and learning moments more enjoyable.

Do Autistic Children Respond to Rewards?

Woman Rewarding an Autistic Child With a High-Five

Children with autism, like all children, respond to rewards. However, the effectiveness and type of reward may vary significantly depending on individual preferences and sensory sensitivities. Understanding what motivates your child is crucial for developing an effective reward system.

Do Reward Systems Work for Autism?

Yes, reward systems can be highly effective for children with autism. They provide clear, consistent feedback that can help reinforce desirable behaviors. ABA therapy frequently employs reward systems to encourage positive behavior and teach new skills.

Rewards, Token Economy, and Reinforcement in ABA

ABA therapy uses various reinforcement strategies to promote learning and behavior modification. A token economy system is one popular method, where children earn tokens for displaying desired behaviors. These tokens can later be exchanged for a preferred item or activity.

How Effective Are Rewards For Children With Autism

Rewards can take many forms, including toys, food, or activities. The key is to find what is motivating for the child.

Pros of Rewards in Children with Autism

Immediate feedback

Rewards provide instant gratification, reinforcing the desired behavior.


Highly motivating rewards can encourage children to engage in tasks they might otherwise avoid.


Rewards can be easily tailored to individual preferences and needs.

Cons of Rewards in Children with Autism


There is a risk that children might only perform tasks for rewards, rather than developing intrinsic motivation.

Over-reliance on tangible rewards

Too much emphasis on physical rewards can diminish their effectiveness over time.


Children may struggle to apply learned behaviors in different contexts without the presence of a reward.

Can Rewards Be Harmful for Autistic Children?

When used appropriately, rewards are not harmful. However, misuse or over-reliance on rewards can create issues such as dependency and reduced intrinsic motivation. It’s important to strike a balance and use rewards as part of a broader strategy that includes natural reinforcement and intrinsic motivation.

What is a Reward System?

A reward system is a structured method for providing positive reinforcement. It involves identifying specific behaviors to encourage, determining appropriate rewards, and establishing a clear system for earning these rewards.

For children with autism, reward systems are often tailored to their unique preferences and needs. This might include using specific toys, preferred foods, or special activities as incentives. The system should be simple, predictable, and consistently applied to be effective.

How to Develop a Reward System for Your Child

1. Identify Target Behaviors

First, identify the specific behaviors you want to encourage. These could range from completing homework to social interactions or daily living skills.

2. Choose Appropriate Rewards

Select rewards that are meaningful and motivating for your child. This might require some experimentation to see what works best.

3. Establish Clear Criteria

Set clear, achievable criteria for earning rewards. This helps the child understand what is expected and what they need to do to earn the reward.

4. Implement the System Consistently

Consistency is key. Make sure the reward system is applied the same way each time, and ensure all caregivers are on the same page.

5. Monitor and Adjust as Needed

Regularly review the effectiveness of the reward system. Be prepared to make adjustments based on your child’s progress and changing preferences.

Other Reward Ideas

In addition to traditional rewards, consider incorporating social rewards such as praise, hugs, or high-fives. Activities like extra playtime, a trip to the park, or a favorite game can also be powerful incentives.

Understanding your child’s unique preferences and sensitivities is critical. Here are some tips:

  • Use a variety of rewards: Mixing up the rewards can keep the system fresh and exciting.
  • Be patient: It may take time to determine what works best for your child.
  • Celebrate small successes: Recognize and reward even small steps toward the desired behavior.

Need Help? Heartlinks ABA Can Help

Rewarding a child with autism can be a powerful tool for encouraging positive behaviors and skill development. By understanding the pros and cons of reward systems and implementing them effectively within the context of ABA therapy, parents can create a supportive and motivating environment for their children. If you’re unsure how to develop an effective reward system or need professional guidance, Heartlinks ABA can assist. Our experienced therapists specialize in creating personalized reinforcement strategies that cater to your child’s unique needs.

For more detailed guidance and support, visit our website and explore our comprehensive ABA therapy services. If you have any questions or need personalized advice, contact us today.

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