Cleveland ABA therapists

Cleveland ABA Therapists Explain Our Aim for Generalization of Skills

When our Cleveland ABA therapists structure our behavior therapy sessions, we know that each one may look a bit different depending on the child’s skills and goals. But one thing that’s the same across the board is the main end goal: Fostering the skills necessary for the child to achieve independence. That means that when we’re designing our programs, we aim for the promotion of generalization.

Simply put, generalization is when learning goes from the narrow parameters of a clinic or classroom to much broader ones – essentially being able to apply those skills in real-world settings.

Often when any of us learn a new skill, we do so under a certain set of conditions. These can include things like the person teaching you, the tools you’re using, and the environment where learning takes place. But life is a constant stream of new experiences and situations. To adapt, we need to be able to apply what we’ve learned in unfamiliar situations with new people and different conditions than we’re used to. We may need to learn how to tweak our approach slightly if we want to succeed in certain conditions.

As Cleveland ABA therapists, we want our patients to be able to use what they’re learning in a clinical setting and apply it to real life situations – which more often than not are very different from the circumstances under which they originally learned.

Generalization is when a person can either perform a skill under varying conditions (stimulus generalization), the ability to apply a skill in a different way (response generalization), and continuing to use that skill over time (maintenance).

Many of us take for granted the ability to generalize skills. You learned fractions and decimals in a fourth grade classroom with a single teacher while using your spiral notebooks and No. 2 pencils. But you then learned – probably effortlessly – to apply those skills in the real world, in a setting where you were not with your teacher, in your classroom, with your notebook and No. 2 pencil.

But for people on the autism spectrum, generalization can be tough and may take more practice. Our Cleveland ABA therapists provide opportunities for them to practice. We also introduce variations incrementally, switching up the environments, people, and materials available to the child while we’re working on a skill. We want to help them apply what they’re learning in a clinical setting to the “real world.” Ultimately, this improves their level of independence and flexibility.

Cleveland ABA Therapists’ Techniques for Teaching Generalization

We can start a plan for generalizing a skill almost as soon as we introduce that skill.

For instance, if we know a certain setting was successful in teaching a student one skill, we may implement that same teaching program but in a different setting. So let’s say we’ve been successful in teaching a student to count 1 to 10 in the clinic. We may try continuing to practice that skill they’ve mastered, but in a totally different environment.

Another method would be altering instructions slightly. So let’s say a student does very well in correctly identifying a certain item when we say, “Show me the _.” We would then start switching up the instruction, and instead of “show me the” we would say, “point to the _” or “where is the _?” We might also change the materials we’re using, though we generally start off only altering one variable at a time.

When we know a child has mastered a certain skill, we may start pulling back on our social or tangible reinforcements. For example, we may have given a great deal of positive praise as a reinforcer of expected behaviors and responses before, but then we start to make those less frequent and predictable. In doing so, we increase the chances the child will be able to perform that skill in a real-world setting – where they aren’t likely to receive any praise from others.

Another approach our Cleveland ABA therapists use is to teach the skill in the natural setting where it’s probably going to be used most often. We also follow the student’s motivations and incorporate their interests whenever possible.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Training and generalization of affective behavior displayed by youth with autism. Fall 1996, J. Applied Behavioral Analysis

More Blog Entries:

Top Akron ABA Therapy Strategies, Oct. 27, 2022, Therapy and Wellness Connection Cleveland ABA Therapy Blog

Cleveland ABA therapists

Cleveland ABA Therapists on Differences Between Bribery vs. Reinforcement

As Cleveland ABA therapists, so much of what we’re able to achieve with our pediatric patients is because of our tactical use of reinforcement. Reinforcement can be positive (game time, a sticker, a favorite song/dance, a gummy treat) or negative (typically ignoring or denying a preferred activity). Where possible, we lean toward the use of positive reinforcements. But we recognize that from the outside looking in, this might seem like bribery.

So, what’s the difference between bribery and positive reinforcement in Applied Behavior Analysis treatment for kids on the autism spectrum?

Here’s our Cleveland ABA therapists generally outline the difference:

  • Bribery is what takes place when a child has already started engaging in a problematic or unexpected behavior and then something like screen time or a special treat is offered in an effort to get them to stop engaging that behavior. It’s not really used as a learning moment or opportunity for a child to gain a new set of skills or engage in a different pattern of behavior. Bribery often stems from a one-time interaction where a child gets some sort of preferred item, food, or activity in exchange for changing their behavior. It might be effective in the short-term (which is why so many parents use it!) but that behavior is going to happen again and again – and won’t change unless you offer the same/similar “bribe” to offset it. Ultimately, it’s the child who maintains control in this scenario.
  • Reinforcement occurs when the preferred item or activity is given only after – and contingent upon – the expected/appropriate behavior change. That might sound really similar to bribery, but we’re delivering the reinforcement only after we see the child “change the channel” and their behavior as a means to increase that behavior.

To illustrate the difference, let’s give a dinner time example.

Let’s say you’ve spent time preparing a meal for your family and place it in front of your child and encourage a bit. The child immediately bursts into tears, throws themself on the ground, and demands chicken nuggets. You respond, “If you will stop crying, I’ll go make you some nuggets.” The crying stops, the child gets their nuggets – win-win, right?

Except that was bribery. It “fixed” the immediate issue, but the same scenario is going to happen again and again – and your child isn’t going to eat their dinner if they know chicken nuggets are on the table as on option – if they have a “big reaction.”

Instead, our Cleveland ABA therapists would recommend a reinforcement approach. Take a deep breath. Then rather than wholly giving in to the child’s demands, make them this deal: You will make chicken nuggets. Plan to do so ahead of time, in fact, if you know this is likely to be a point of contention. Then you use the chicken nuggets as the reinforcer. You require first a bite of dinner in exchange for each chicken nugget. With this tactic, you are reinforcing the expected behavior (eating the dinner you prepared) with the reinforcer (they chicken nugget they really want).

In the end, the goal of “bribery” is for the person giving the “bribe” to get what they want. But with reinforcement, the goal is ultimately to benefit the child/learner.

When we talk about reinforcement tactics in ABA, we sometimes hear from parents that they are reticent to “bribe” their child to do what’s expected of them in the first place. But this is where they are confusing bribery with reinforcement.

Look at this way: If what you’re doing is not effective, trying something new may be necessary. And reinforcement involves a bit of planning on your part. You know your child is likely to take issue with the dinner you prepared. Set them up for success by motivating/teaching them upfront.

Cleveland ABA Therapists Tips for Parent Positive Reinforcement

As ABA therapists, our sessions take a fair bit of planning to ensure we’re targeting the goals/skillsets of each child with whom we’re working. But parents can use some of these same basic strategies at home to help facilitate desired results.

A few ideas:

  • Catch” expected behaviors. You may already be planning to provide your child with some type of treat, like game time or some chocolate. All the better if you can do so after “catching” them engaged in expected/appropriate behavior that you want to target or encourage. The more you do this, the more expected behaviors you’ll see.
  • Make sure you’re targeting an appropriate behavior to reinforce. You want to be sure it’s something your child is actually capable of. Start with easier tasks and then work your way up to more challenging skills. Remember: You want to set them up for success and improve their confidence that they can reach their goals!
  • Keep an eye out for warning signs. In ABA, one of the first things we learn is to study the “ABC’s” of behavior. This involves carefully observing the antecedent (what happens right before an inappropriate behavior), the behavior itself, and then the consequence. By altering either the antecedent or consequence, we can help children alter behaviors and gain new skills. Watching out for warning signs is knowing what antecedents are likely to trigger a meltdown or other inappropriate behavior that you’re trying to target. Go into situations you know may be triggering prepared with tools to help reinforce when they engage in expected/appropriate behaviors.

In the event a tantrum or meltdown occurs, it’s important to wait until they are in a calmer place before initiating any sort of reinforcement. (They’re unlikely to be able to respond much at all when they’re in such a heightened, emotional state.)

When they do start to calm down and get a reign on their emotions: Praise them for it! This is positive reinforcement to. Praise them using their calm-down strategies (deep breaths, counting to 10, squeezing their palms, etc.). Then when they are truly calm enough to engage in meaningful communication, you can outline the terms of the reinforcement (i.e., three bites of dinner = 1 chicken nugget).

If you have questions about the difference between positive reinforcement and bribery and how best to implement positive reinforcement at home, our dedicated Cleveland ABA therapists can help.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Applied Behavior Analysis, Autism Speaks

More Blog Entries:

How Our Cleveland ABA Therapists Teach Kids With Autism Personal Hygiene Skills, Aug. 11, 2022, Cleveland ABA Therapy Blog

Akron ABA therapists

ABA Therapists Can Help With Autism Food Aversions

Mealtimes are awash in rich sensory experiences, with an array of smells, temperatures, textures, sounds, tastes and interactions. Most people enjoy mealtimes and sharing these experiences with loved ones. But our ABA therapists recognize that for children on the autism spectrum, mealtimes can present significant sensory challenges, leading to stress, sensory overload and meltdowns. Difficulties with communication can pose additional challenges for everyone.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for any child to be picky at times, but kids on the autism spectrum may be highly sensitive not just to something’s flavor, but its texture, shape, smell and color. They may have a strong preference for a very small selection of foods, and might even have an overwhelming need to eat those same foods on the same plate or in the same place at each meal.

You may notice that people with autism sometimes develop their own strategies to limit their sensory input during mealtimes. They may become:

  • Overly selective in their foods.
  • Inflexible in their mealtime routines.
  • Refuse to eat/eat limited amounts.
  • Prone to escape (elope, cover their ears, eyes, nose and/or mouth).
  • Repetitive in their behaviors to self-soothe.
Cleveland ABA therapists

ABA Therapists Use “Extinction” to Reduce Interfering Behavior

The term “extinction” automatically conjures up mental images of long-gone dinosaurs and dodos. But our Cleveland ABA therapists are familiar with it for another reason. It’s a procedure we frequently use to reduce interfering behaviors for children on the autism spectrum or with other conditions.

“Interfering behaviors,” as noted by researchers at the at the M.I.N.D. Institute and the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, are those that are disruptive or restrictive behaviors that can interfere with optimal development, learning and/or achievement.

“Extinction” is a formal term, but it basically means our ABA therapists want to get to the bottom of the function or cause of a certain behavior and then terminate access to that function in order to extinguish the behavior. We have to examine what is happening before and after the behavior in question to figure out how it’s being reinforced so we can understand why it’s still occurring. Then we cut off that reinforcement.

Extinction is frequently used to target or reduce interfering behaviors such as:

  • Screaming.
  • Tantrums/crying.
  • Excessive scratching/picking.