Exchange System

If it has been determined that an exchange system is the best response form to use at this time, it must be determined whether to use objects or pictures (or both). Again this decision should be based on the current skills of the child as well as the constraints of the environments the child is typically in. Once this is determined, the team must decide on the most appropriate stimuli to use to teach the exchange. If object exchange is to be used, collect the items the child will use as the representative sample. The following suggestions may assist in gathering these items:

1.  A plastic cup to request a drink.

2.  A few pieces of the child's favorite snack taped to a piece of cardboard.

3.  A few pieces of the favorite food inside a clear cassette case taped shut.

4.  A sample of the favorite item inside a clear video case box.


If pictures are to be used, determine which types of pictures will be best for the child. Remember that it is not necessary that the child be able to match the picture to the object before teaching can begin. When we reinforce the child for exchanging the picture by giving the desired object, we are associating the two. However, if a child has particular difficulty discriminating between pictures, re-evaluate the stimuli to determine what changes can be made to help the child discriminate.

Options may include:

1.  Photographs of the actual objects

2.  Pieces of the wrapper of favorite items

3.  Parts of the boxes from favorite toys

4.  Icons or line drawings 

Children may differ regarding the contrasts, colors etc. that are used within the pictures or icons. Experiment with different colored paper, inks, color vs. black and white, highlighted backgrounds etc. to determine to which the child responds best.

Next determine which items or activities to use to begin teaching the child the exchange system chosen. Start with the child's favorite items or activities. It must be determined that the child actually wants the item or activity before teaching is initiated. Give the child a bit of the item and see if they indicate they want more or observe the child reach for or stare at the item. Remember you can't teach a child to request something they don't want at the moment!

Beginning Steps in Teaching the Exchange

The beginning steps in teaching the exchange requires two people. Place the item you have established the child wants in front of him but not within reaching distance. For initial training, it is helpful to use items that come in small pieces or can be broken into small pieces to allow plenty of practice. The object or picture to be exchanged is placed between the child and the desired item. The first instructor sits opposite the child, close to the desired item. The second instructor sits behind the child to prompt. It is important that neither instructor say anything before the item is delivered at the beginning of teaching because we want the response to be based on the child's desire for the item rather than on anything the instructors have said or done.

1.  As the child reaches for the item, the second instructor physically prompts the child to pick up and give the picture or object to the first instructor whose hand is out-stretched. As soon as the object or card is in the instructor's hand, the first instructor says the name of the item and gives the child the item. It is recommended that just the name of the item be stated rather than a sentence such as "Oh! Your want a ball." We want the word "ball" to be paired with receiving reinforcement. Research indicates the child is more likely to later repeat words presented just prior to reinforcement due to automatic reinforcement. This should happen very quickly. Deliver the reinforcer as soon as the child hands you the picture or object. Continue full prompting until the child is picking up and delivering the object or picture to the first instructor's hand with no prompting. Do not give the child verbal directions during this process.

2.  Add a picture or object of something that you know the child will not want as a distracter. If two reinforcers are chosen for initial teaching, the instructor will not be able to determine which item the child really wanted in the first place! Mix the items up on the table so the child must look at the pictures or objects in order to choose the correct one. Occasionally a blank piece of paper of the same size serves as a good first distracter as the child is learning to discriminate. If the child hands you the "wrong" picture, say nothing but give the item "requested". This should only happen once and full prompting should be provided on the rest of the trails to provide "errorless" learning. 

3.  Fade the prompt of the out-stretched hand of the first instructor.

4.  Fade the presence of the first instructor. Gradually move away from the child so the child has to come to you to get the desired item.

5.  Gradually teach the child to request other desired items or activities. 

6.  Gradually increase the size of the field the child must request from.

7.  Keep the pictures or objects in a place where the child always has access to them. If this is not possible, teach the child to request a notebook or box where the pictures or objects can be stored.

8.  Be sure to teach the child to exchange with a wide variety of people so he doesn't learn to associate one person with this activity.


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