The Status Woe

Rising above mediocrity one mishap at a time

What exactly is Issy’s therapy?

on February 26, 2013

So what is this magic they are working on my daughter?


Two years ago we had a behaviorist who recommended starting a ‘Token Economy’ system with Issy.  Basically, she earns tokens and then gets to turn in her tokens for something great.

We had a 6 piece puzzle.  Every 30 minutes that Issy didn’t hit she earned a puzzle piece.  When she had a full puzzle I would take her for Ice cream (or give her a nail polish, or let her watch a video, etc).

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The problem was, that Issy didn’t understand any of it.  She couldn’t go 30 minutes without hitting.  She never earned a puzzle piece, much less an ice cream.  It didn’t mean anything to her.

So fast forward two years and now picture this scene……….

I have Issy at the treatment center.  I’m in a meeting to learn two things:

1.)  Why she is hitting (Is it for attention? Does she like to look at tears?)

2.)  What the Behavior Plan will be

They were able to tell me that her aggression comes from not getting something she wants or not being able to do what she wants.  In other words,  she can’t tolerate being told “no”.

Next the behaviorist said, “We will be using a token economy system with Issy”.

*Stunned silence*

This is a  state-of-the-art facility.  Cutting edge.  Teeming with behaviorists and they’re about to break out the puzzle pieces. Really?

I cried.

With blubbering and snot.


I already knew this wasn’t going to work!  However, being the consummate professionals they are, they did not let a blubbering mother tell them how to do their job.  The behavior plan would start the following day.  Whether I was on board or not.


Let me pause here to tell you a little about me.  Before I started having children, I worked as a scientist.  I worked as a molecular biologist mapping genes on two projects and as a scientist at a pharmaceutical company.  You have to be smart to be a scientist, right?

woman scientist

I’m an idiot.

And let me tell you why.  I’m an idiot because I thought that the ‘loosey goosey’ token economy system I did at home two years ago would be similar to what would be done at this highly structured residential facility teeming with behaviorists.

*face palm*

So let me tell you about this Issy’s token economy system.

Every two minutes a timer goes off and the worker says something like, “Issy, you had good hands and feet!  Great job!  You get a token!!”  She gets a token and puts it on her token board.


(tokens are round cardstock pictures of Miley Cirus, Taylor Swift, Justin Beiber, or Dora, to name a few.  The token board is a very think piece of cardstock or maybe even a piece of cardboard covered in Velcro dots.)

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Every two minutes, with a timer.  Seriously.

Every 30 minutes they tell Issy that it’s time to go to the “Issy store” where they have a big rubber maid tub full of coloring books, nail polish, brownie mix, and other things Issy likes.  Oh, and also “free time” cards.  She trades her tokens to buy 5 minutes of free time to watch a video or play on her ipad, or she buys a favored item.

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As my best friend Yvonne said, “Hey, that girl gets to buy time?!  Sign me up!”

Now let me brag about my little girl for a minute.

She is so smart.


A coloring book is 55 tokens.  She loves coloring books.  She totally understands that she has to save up tokens to get the coloring book.

She gets extra tokens for doing her classroom work.  So guess what?  SHE ASKS TO GO INTO THE CLASSROOM TO WORK!!!!

She is very good at math so this is all easy for her.

What happens if she hits someone?  The timer stops and won’t start again until she has quiet hands and feet.  They never take tokens away.  They don’t yell at her. They don’t tell her over and over again not to hit (ahem, *hangs head in shame*).  They just constantly remind her that having quiet hands and feet will get her tokens.

So everything at the Great Lakes Center for Autism Treatment and Research must be rainbows and puppy dogs, right?!


NO.  Remember what I talked about in my last blog post?  Extinction Burst.  We can expect these behaviors to get worse before they go away completely.

I saw a video of her in treatment having a MASSIVE melt down.  They call it “high intensity”.  I call it ‘holy sh!t scary’.  I’m very glad the extinction burst is happening there and not at home.  Wow….

Let me talk about home life for a minute.

Issy was not happy at home.  She pretty much would sit in her room playing on the ipad.  She would only come out to rampage.  She wanted to visit someone, or she wanted McDonalds, or she wanted ‘Revlon Red’ nail polish.  We provided, pretty much, whatever she wanted.  We would say, “Good talking!  Or Good asking! And promptly get her the McDonalds, or whatever she asked for.


So maybe by us reinforcing her language, we were also reinforcing the fact that we really didn’t tell her “no” very often? And she expected to get things more than other children???  I think this is a good ABA theory question.  Anyway, I’m sure I ruined her somewhere along the way.  Oh, the mother guilt! (and before some of you get too excited about blaming me, please note that I have two neuro-typical children who are told “no” frequently and do not hit.  Also, they are incredible children with good grades and lots of friends. So I’m not a total mother failure).

Back to the point.  She wasn’t really happy at home.  It felt like we were just biding our time between outbursts.  Also, our parenting became very unnatural.  We were tap dancing around actually saying “no” to avoid meltdowns.  We were also dancing around known triggers for her.  Heck even her siblings would do that.  Who exactly in this house, was shaping whos behavior?!


Is she happy at the Great Lakes Center for Autism Treatment and Research?  I don’t think so.  She is very homesick.  She misses her cat.  But I do think that she has the ability to become happy there.  Issy is a very good learner.  She will learn to look forward to earning her tokens and getting fabulous rewards with them.  This skill can transfer to home as well. We can teach her to be happy using this system.  And besides, can you think of a better or different way to teach her to be happy?

Remember how I said they set the timer for every 2 minutes?  Well, they have spaced that out to 10 minutes!  Still very intensive but who knows how far they can stretch it out before she is allowed to return home?  She may come home at the beginning of April or begin to transition home in September and be home for good by November.  All of this depends on funding.

Please understand that I just plunked out the basics of this system.  There is more too it.  A lot more.  They throw in some monkey wrenches to challenge her and use some self-calming skills with her too.



If you are dealing with problem behaviors, do not try to set up a token economy system, or any other system for your child.  Because the only thing worse than no behavior plan, is the wrong behavior plan (remind me to tell you about the behaviorist who told us to encourage Issy to hit when she was mad.  Yes, for real.  That’s why your behaviorist must have a behavior team or supports backing them).

Thank you for reading!

Oh, I almost forgot!  For your watching enjoyment I’m showing you an actual tap-dance video! This is me and Issy dancing side by side!