If you hang out on Karla’s ASD Page or read more of this blog, you’ll encounter the concept of “tokens.” I’m going to use it in my next post and I want to be able to link to an explanation, so here it is:
The term “tokens” refers to the amount of energy, processing ability, emotional regulation, coping skills, etc., that a person has. Assume for the sake of simplicity that you start each day with a fresh supply of tokens. Everything you do that taxes you in some way costs you some tokens.
If you are autistic, you spend more tokens on many tasks than a neurotypical person does–getting dressed, for example, takes more tokens because of the sensory processing involved.
Throughout the day, it doesn’t matter where you spend your tokens–when they’re gone, they’re gone. So Nick goes off to school with a decent supply, but if he uses them all up to get through his classes, he won’t have any left by the time he gets home.
Out of tokens + new demands = meltdown.
If I can avert a meltdown by sending him immediately to his room where he can recharge by spending time alone and perhaps with a very easy special interest, he may be able to build up some more tokens to get through the rest of the day. But if he melts, he will need so much time to recover from the meltdown that the day will be shot. Even a special interest may be too taxing (Nick’s fencing class, for example–he loves it but it he has to go into it with enough tokens to deal with the noise, lights, and social demands).
This is why Nick only goes to school for a partial day, why he does his most challenging classes online, and why we came up with new supports when a school expectation was using up way too many of his tokens. I want him to be left with enough tokens to spend time doing things he loves after the school day is done.
Before his current IEP was in place and he was using up all of his tokens coping with school, he was melting down every day. We advocate for him, and he is learning to advocate for himself, so that he doesn’t spend all of his tokens before he has a chance to recharge his supply.