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Generalization

By: Kelly Terrell


Have you ever heard your child’s BCBA talk about “generalization” or how your child has “generalized a skill” and wondered, “what does that mean, and why is it important?”


In a nutshell, generalization means a person has applied a skill which has been taught to a new setting, person, object, etc. The best part? Generalization is the ultimate goal of most skills taught in ABA!


Here’s an example:

A therapist teaches a client to say “dog” when presented with a picture of a dog on an index card, maybe a picture of a golden retriever. The client learns that the picture of the golden retriever on the card is a dog. Then, the therapist shows the client a picture of a different dog, and teaches the client that this new dog, say a dalmatian, is also a dog. This goes on with pictures of corgis, labs, huskies, german shepherds, etc. and then the therapist begins showing client toy dogs instead of pictures. The client may immediately recognize that these toy dogs are similar to the pictures of dogs, or he/she may need to be taught this connection. Finally, the client may begin to connect the pictures and toys of dogs to dogs in videos or real dogs. This is generalizing “dog” as a tact (label).


This same idea can be applied to generalizing various shades of blue, different kinds of shoes, or even different types of greetings!


The main idea behind generalization is for the client to use the skills he or she learns in the clinic and apply them in the real world and in functional, meaningful ways.


In many ABA clinics, including NGAC, therapists teach with generalization in mind. To do this, we begin with structured, formal instruction (think back to the example with a single picture of a dog) and move to looser, more natural instruction (such as pointing out toy dogs and dogs in videos).


Another important aspect of generalization is utilizing learned skills in various settings and with different people. This is exactly why clinics like NGAC rotate therapists for clients from time to time. It is great if a client has mastered saying good morning to the therapist he is used to, but in the real world, that client will likely need to be able to greet many different people. So, once a client has gotten really good at greeting his therapist, we start working on greeting new people. We also practice saying hello (and lots of other skills) in different rooms throughout the clinic so the client is able to generalize greeting people in more than one location. After all, it is wonderful if a client is able to greet one or two people at lunch each day, but it is even better if the client generalizes greeting people everywhere that he goes!


A great way to help your child generalize skills is to ask your child’s therapist what he or she is working on and how to practice at home!

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