Beyond the B.A.S.I.C.S. Blog


October 24, 2011

Generalization is one of the most important concepts in ABA. It’s why we don’t wear uniforms to work, why we hold sessions in the basement, at school, at the grocery store, and at the mall.  It’s why clients have more than one therapist, and why your supervisor keeps reminding you to change up the way you ask your questions.  You want your client to know his name ALL THE TIME, not just when he’s sitting at the table with you. It’s obviously important with personal skills – you want your client to be able to tell a police officer he’s never met before what his name is – but what about skills that aren’t so life-and-death? Why is skill generalization so important?

Neurotypical people often generalize things without having to be taught. You probably, for example, didn’t need specific instruction on how to use a pen after having already learned what a pencil is for. The ABA client base, though, often includes special needs people, including those with developmental delays and Autism. Because of their different abilities, these people don’t necessarily generalize automatically.  To consider a skill completely mastered, you must also consider whether or not that skill has been generalized. To guarantee generalization in a client base that doesn’t automatically generalize things, you must plan for it, teach it, and test it.

Here are a few things you can do during your day-to-day sessions to increase the likelihood of skill generalization:

  1. Hold your sessions in different locations – the bedroom, the kitchen, the park, etc.
  2. Use natural language in your Sd – don’t ask the same question the same way each time.
  3. Use different materials (if your client can only identify a dog on one or two specific flash cards, she doesn’t really know what a dog is yet)
  4. Wear different clothing, wear your hair differently, even wear a hat sometimes!
  5. Accept responses that may not be EXACTLY what the program states. (ex: If the program states that a correct response is: “I really like cupcakes, what do you like?”  and your client says, “I think cupcakes are yummy. What do you think is yummy?”)  (DISCLAIMER: If you’re trying to teach a specific language structure this may not be appropriate – check with your supervisor to be certain!).
  6. Teach a skill in the most appropriate location (ex: if your client has a self-help target of ordering from a fast food restaurant, take him to several different fast food restaurants, or set up a realistic looking restaurant at home).
  7. Alter your tone of voice, and retrial responses in which your client responds in the exact tone you use. Also, retrial responses in which your client responds with the same tone of voice each time (it’s cute that your 3yo client sings his name like that, but not at all functional).
  8. Present your materials from different angles and locations. Switch hands while presenting materials.
  9. Have other people present sometimes and absent other times.
  10. Vary your reinforcers!!!
  11. Hold a session with the lights dimmed or off.
  12. Have a radio or TV playing in the background during some of your sessions.
  13. Teach at different times of day.
  14. Vary the temperature and smell of your teaching setting.
  15. Run your programs in a different order each day.


Melissa Ruiz, BCaBA


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