Reflecting on the reward chart!

23 April 2018
Blog post

I started my role as a Community Learning Facilitator in August 2016, and spent my first few months familiarising myself with the day-to-day practices of a No Limits service. In October, a new learner, George, was to join the service, and I was tasked with being his key worker and launching his No Limits programme.

Meetings with George’s residential staff had illustrated the challenges in George’s behaviour (primarily hitting, shouting and swearing when faced with adversity or irritation), and they recommended a ‘firm but fair’ approach. Thus, turning up on the first day I had made George a timetable resource which acted as a reward chart. I discussed with George the possibility of implementing five ground rules to follow when out with No Limits staff, in return for which monthly rewards would be provided. In hindsight, I should never have turned up that day with a ‘behaviour chart’ in my hand and the expectation that George would be on-board with the idea; although George agreed with the concept of a reward chart when I introduced it, I now know that imposing one was not best practice. We are fortunate that it worked as well as it did!

I was lucky enough to receive PBS Coaches training in October 2017, a year after the reward chart had been implemented. This in-depth course alerted me to the fact that the reward chart – externally imposed and based on consequences – was not in in keeping with PBS principles.

On returning from my training I held a tutorial with George about his reward chart: whether he liked it, whether he wanted to use another resource to assist him with managing his own behaviour, or whether he thought we should scrap the idea completely. George told me that he wanted to keep his reward chart as it had been such a crucial part of his daily routine. I was then faced with the dilemma of how to keep using a system that was essentially restrictive, but in a way that was true to PBS principles and gave George greater control over his own behaviour. My colleagues were also initially concerned that George’s behaviour could deteriorate without the option to impose the loss of a reward, and that his education would suffer as a result.

After speaking to George about the possibility of removing the reward chart, he came up with an even better idea: he would create his own version of a reward chart, with self-imposed consequences that he could use to motivate himself. Initially I was reluctant as this was still consequence-based and restrictive; but as George was determined to try it, I agreed.

The following day George showed me the reward chart he had created. It was customised with all of his favourite characters and had five ground rules which, if met, would allow George to do a colour print-out at one of the local internet cafés, as well as giving himself three bottle lids to add to his collection. If George did not meet enough of his ground rules then he would, of his own accord, take fewer bottle lids or deny himself the print-out. George was enthusiastic about this new system, so we agreed to try it.

The original imposed reward chart had undeniably helped George to manage his own behaviour; but the new reward chart blows the old one out of the water. Since its introduction, George has rapidly increased his ability to self-regulate. Incidents have reduced as George responds more readily to pre-emptive measures and sometimes uses them on himself; the severity of those incidents that do occur is also lower, as George is able to quickly motivate himself to bring his behaviours of concern under control. George thrives on having the agency to evaluate his own progress, and is beginning to recognise and articulate the real reasons for managing his own behaviour (e.g. the impacts on himself and others). This is incredible progress.

George is now half way through his three-year education programme with No Limits. The first eighteen months have been characterised by a learning curve on both sides – George with self-management and No Limits with finding the right way to enable it. We now feel that we are on the right track and that George is in the driver’s seat. We can’t wait to see what he achieves over the next eighteen months!

Callum Laffar

Community Learning Facilitator

No Limits East Midlands

* The person’s name has been changed in this blog