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When is it ok to use external rewards?

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

Star charts! Token boards! Bribes! When are using these external rewards a good idea?

My whole ASD from the Inside out approach is based on the idea that one of the main areas we want to target with our kids on the spectrum is improving their INTRINSIC motivation to communicate...which means, we generally don't want to rely on external rewards. But are there times it's ok to use them??

External rewards should ONLY be used for algorithmic tasks. Algorithmic tasks are routine tasks that require little creativity and typically requires you to do the same thing over and over. Example of an algorithmic task for kids: Cleaning up blocks and putting them in a container!

When we ask kids to complete these algorithmic, routine tasks (tasks that don't require much creativity and might be seen as boring), external rewards can provide a small motivation boost without adverse effects.

However, when we ask kids to complete tasks that require creative thinking, problem solving, and flexibility (which would be needed for pretty much every language, play, or social skills task), external rewards actually narrow the child's ability to think creatively and be original. This is awesome research by Daniel Pink.

So try to only use rewards with those routine, algorithmic tasks!

If you're an SLP, click here to learn about the Inside Out Sensory Certificate for SLPs. If you're a parent of an autistic child or child with sensory needs, click here to learn about the Inside Out Sensory Communication Program for Parents.

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