How to Keep Students with Autism Focused *FREEBIE*

Keeping your students with autism or special needs focused until the work is complete can be tough. But there is a solution that can help! Token boards keep students with autism focused.

Token boards visually give the message of how much work you expect students to do. This helps motivate them to keep on working. Token boards are typically used with students with autism, but they can help many special education students stay focused until the work is done.

There’s a lot of research to support this. Just search the term ‘token economies‘ and you’ll find plenty to read.

SLP working with a student with autism

How are token boards used?

Token boards, also referred to as penny boards, are a visual reinforcer to keep students working. They can be set up in a variety of ways. The basic idea includes having an area that shows what work is completed and another area that shows how much is still left to do. Typically, the all-done area is on the top and the amount of work to be done is on the bottom. So with each correct response, one token gets moved from the bottom to the top of the board unit all of the planned work is completed. Then the student gets the reinforcer.

In the beginning, one token is equivalent to one piece of work, or one answer. You want the student to be able to successfully attend and complete the work, so start simple! Even if this means that your student gives just one answer before receiving the preferred reinforcement. Then slowly build up the amount of work to be completed before getting the reinforcement time. Keep it successful!

Of course, this is always easier said than done in real life. The free guide gives lots of tips for how to build your student’s attending skills successfully, including troubleshooting for when things go awry.

How do students respond?

There are a lot of ways to set up token boards for success. Part of this is determined by how your student likes to utilize them.

  • Some students only look at token boards to see that they are getting closer to receiving their reinforcer.
  • Other students can focus and work a little longer when their token board has a preferred theme.
  • Just having the picture of their preferred things acts as a mini reinforcer for some until the work is complete.
  • And if your student can appropriately move the token independently, it is even more rewarding.

How can token boards be set up?

The varieties are endless! Most use a rectangular shape that is durable and easy to carry from one area to another. Lamination helps with durability. They all use hook and loop tape to let you move the tokens on the board. Be consistent in where you place the loop versus the hook, though! Some ideas include:

  • a clipboard with pennies on the bottom.
  • a rectangular shape on top with colored circles as tokens. Use your student’s favorite color.
  • thematic token boards to change the look with units or seasons.
  • puzzle pieces to place into the puzzle shape on top.
4 free themed token boards picture

How to Individualize Token Boards

Four different themes are used in the ready-made token boards in the Getting Started with Autism Guide. Kids will love the choices: dinosaurs, cars, superheroes, and farm animals. But what about your students who just want their favorite TV character?

While students love the actual pictures of their favorite TV show characters, copyright law prevents them from being used by me. But it is easy to use the template to create your own! Just find pictures of the setting for your student’s favorite character to insert into the rectangular box. Then put the character’s face into the circle and make 10 tokens. Or use all of the characters from the show. Using these pictures for educational purposes for one student is allowable.

Another idea is to just replace the tokens in the free downloaded sets. Maybe your student responds better to images of farm animals. Or they may have a highly preferred superhero! Just use the free template and you are ready to go. 

picture of the token board freebie

Make the token boards you use as specific to your students’ interests as possible. The more your student likes it, the more likely it is that your student will be motivated to stay focused and get those tokens moving! It is easy to individualize for each student when you use this free token board template to personalize!

FREE Editable Token Boards

I'd love FREE editable token boards to help engage my students with autism.

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Read more easy tips on how to use token boards with your students!

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I’m Linda, an SLP who loves helping you build effective communication skills for your students using strategies and visuals. Pictures are time consuming, so let me make your life easier!

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