Speech Therapy Rewards that Don’t Include Food

Speech Therapy RewardsI was invited into a behavioral observation of a child with ADHD and autism who was having difficulty completing his work.  True enough, we tried working with the child using available behavioral techniques and he was not playing along!  When the Life Skills teacher heard the screaming she came in and said, “You forgot these,” and handed me a baggie full of Skittles.  “What are these?” I asked.  “We give him one each time he says a word or writes a letter,” she explained.   !?!

It would be easiest to jump at THE MANY reasons why this is a bad idea.  However, I think that every SLP has used food as a reward or has seen it used by others.   A shift in our field needs to happen to move us away from food-based rewarding.  Here is why:

The Obesity Epidemic

As I write this article, 1 in 5 children are considered obese.  This is triple the number from the 1970s.   A growing percentage are reaching a level usually reserved for adults – morbidly obese.  The CDC estimates that at the current rate we will be at 1-in-4 children within a decade.

A Rise in Sugar-Related Food Reactions

Food sensitivity is also on the rise.  This is not the allergic-reaction producing group of foods that school nurses and parents warn us about.   It is food-type reactivity.  Many if not most of the goods that fall into this category are gluten-based and/or sugar based.

A Psychological Connection Between Reward and Food

Studies show that children who rely on food-related rewards as children seek food-related gratification and reward in adulthood.  We all love celebration food.  What we really need are additional options that are not food related.

Speech Therapy Rewards – A Better Way

Wow! Statistics like that make me feel yucky.  Thank you for hanging in there.  Now let’s get to the good stuff.

There’s a better way! 

And YOU tireless SLP are capable of rewarding a child in a modern way.

What is your payoff?  You get better behavior without the sugar!  You keep your own money (you know you were paying for the food anyways).  You set the child up for life-long habits.

Here are some speech therapy reward ideas that we have gathered from multiple sources.

Speech Therapy Rewards – Free Options

  • Play A Computer Game
  • Sit By Friends
  • Watch A Video
  • Work Outdoors
  • Teach The Class
  • Be Recognized During Announcements
  • Get Extra Art Time
  • Have An Extra Recess
  • Receive Verbal Praise
  • Enjoy Class Outdoors
  • Take Care Of The Class Animal
  • Read To A Younger Class
  • Go On A Walking Field Trip
  • Get A “No Homework” Pass
  • Make Deliveries To The Office
  • Earn Extra Credit
  • Listen To Music While Working
  • Read Morning Announcements
  • Listen With A Headset To A Book
  • Be A Helper In Another Classroom
  • Eat Lunch Outdoors With The Class
  • Go To The Library To Select A Book To Read
  • Eat Lunch With A Teacher Or Principal
  • Design A Class/School Bulletin Board
  • Walk With A Teacher During Lunch
  • Be Featured On A Photo Recognition Board
  • Dance To Favorite Music In The Classroom
  • Earn Play Money To Be Used For Privileges
  • Get “Free Choice” Time At The End Of The Day
  • Receive A Note Of Recognition From The Teacher Or Principal
  • Play A Favorite Game Or Puzzle
  • Have A Teacher Read A Special Book To The Entire Class
  • Receive A 5-Minute Chat Break At The End Of The Class Or At The End Of The Day

Written by: Scott Prath

2 Comments on “Speech Therapy Rewards that Don’t Include Food”

  1. Angela July 12, 2018 at 5:28 pm #

    Yes! Before becoming an SLP I was a first grade teacher. So many of my co-workers used candy as a reward – my students learned from day 1 that “Ms. Mendez doesn’t hand out candy.” We had two scheduled snacks a day (I was blessed with wonderful parents who kept me stocked up on healthy snacks like apples, cutie oranges, etc) that provided an opportunity for some social skills AND helped fill their little, hungry bellies. I worked, and still work, in a title 1 school with little ones who need the extra food, but it was always presented as food. As far as rewards, they were always working towards something – class rewards, table rewards and individual rewards that included extra recess, sitting by a friend, and eating lunch with the teacher. I carried that over to my new SLP role, my students who graduate from speech get to eat lunch with me once a 9 weeks. I also just go out of my way to pump my students up and make them feel good about their progress – all the high 5’s and specific comments (Wow, you have become a master of synonyms!). Rewards are great but in the end we have to help them learn that mastering their goals feels even better.

    • Scott Prath July 16, 2018 at 9:54 am #

      You are so right. Food rewards are an easy decision and fun at times but recognition of accomplishments really helps to build internal motivation abilities. Thank you for your comment.

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