Written by Alana George, BS Clinical Psychology, RBT Student Analyst
What is generalization?
The term Generalization in ABA is the process of taking a skill learned in one setting (e.g., home) and applying it in other settings (e.g., daycare/school). It may also be used to define the process of taking one skill and applying it in a different way (e.g., zip coat up and zip up backpack) (Fouse & Wheeler, 1997). Generalization is simply applying learned skills in many ways.
How is generalization used in therapy with my child?
In ABA therapy, we promote generalization consistently throughout treatment in many ways such as mixing up our therapy materials, rephrasing our verbal instructions in various ways, working in different rooms throughout learning, and highly reinforce your child when they display a learned skill in a new environment. Not only do we vary the environment and materials to promote generalization in different settings, but we also teach generalization across individuals. During treatment, your child will work with many different professionals where their skills are intentionally being taught and applied across all settings and individuals.
Why is generalization important?
Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or other developmental disorders sometimes exhibit a behavior or skill only in the context that it was taught. By encouraging your child to apply a learned skill in a wide variety of environments, with different materials and across different people, you can increase your child’s independence. Ultimately, this will encourage your child to become more flexible as well as help your child interact meaningfully with their environment. (ABA for Families, 2012).
Promote Generalization at Home
As a caregiver you already implement generalization in your daily lives.
A few common everyday examples are:
- Using a fork, spoon, and knife to pick up and eat food
- Responding to greetings in various way: “Hello” “Hi” “Hey”
- The ability to tie a knot on shoelaces, on rope, and a bow
You can reinforce your child’s positive behavior while implementing generalization.
You can also easily promote generalization with your child in your natural environment, here are a few examples:
- While playing ball with your child, use many different types (bouncy, soccer, football). Using various toys with your child teaches functional play skills across many items and activities.
- When driving in the car, label out loud all the vehicles you may see (van, truck, motorcycle, car). This example expands vocabulary through tacting and teaches many forms of transportation.
- Switch up the snacks you pack for your child (various fruits, different flavor chips). This example is very significant in promoting good eating skills. A child may seem to be a picky eater but promoting generalization introduces new textures and flavors your child may love!
Fouse, B., and Wheeler, M. (997). A treasure chest of behavioral strategies for individuals with autism. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons
ABA for Families, (2012).