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 therapy

Finding the Function of Behavior: Cleveland ABA Therapy Insight

When it comes to the science of behavior, the first question our Cleveland ABA therapy team wants to have answered is: Why?

Every behavior has a function. It is finding out the function of behavior that allows us to formulate effective intervention strategies to help change it. For our Northeast Ohio behavior analysts, determining the function of behavior is – without question – one of the most essential parts of this job.

Parents and caretakers also may benefit a great deal when they understand why a behavior occurs. We teach parents basic strategies on how to do this, allowing them to troubleshoot in the moment. This is important because when we don’t know the true cause of a behavior and our response is reactive, we may in fact end up reinforcing that behavior, unintentionally.

Why is my child face down screaming bloody murder in the grocery store when all I did was take his fingers out of his mouth? Why won’t my child stop throwing his food onto the floor when I’ve begged, coaxed, and even yelled at him not to do that?

It’s key to understand that there is a reason behind all behavior. All behavior has a function. If the goal is a different response or outcome, we must find out why the behavior is occurring in the first place. We must also understand unintentional reinforcements. For example, if the function of a behavior is to gain mom & dad’s attention (which is a pretty common function), then mom & dad yelling or having some big response to a behavior has the exact opposite effect of what they intended. They are unintentionally reinforcing that behavior – and that is going to take some time to undo.

Cleveland ABA Therapy Team IDs Top 4 Behavior Catalysts

When it comes to motivation for behavior, there is no one-size-fits-all. That’s why we are behavior scientists. We use tried & true methods to test our theories and hypotheses. We carefully study the ABC’s of behavior (antecedent, behavior, and consequence). What happened just before the behavior? What was the behavior itself? What happened immediately after? Then we see if tweaking the antecedent and/or consequence has any bearing on the behavior. If it doesn’t, we can keep trying different strategies, or we may have to adjust our initial theory about the function of the behavior (i.e., maybe the goal isn’t attention-seeking, but rather sensory input).

At our Cleveland ABA therapy clinic, we’ve identified the top four behavior motivations that can help provide parents with a good starting point in their own analyses. They are:

Attention. This is probably the most common behavior motivator. Here, a child will engage in a certain behavior because it gains them attention. Young kids are going to be constantly looking to seek parents’ attention, but it might also be teachers, therapists, siblings, peers, etc. And bear in mind: Not all attention-seeking behavior is the same. A child may shout out of turn in preschool. They may kick their parent from the grocery store cart. They may run away (knowing mom or dad will run after them & catch them).

Escape. Children often engage in avoidance behavior as a means of getting out of unwanted situations. “Escape” could mean throwing a tantrum to get out of brushing teeth before bed. It could be throwing non-preferred foods off their plate and onto the floor. It could be bolting out the door and down the street. Parents have to be really careful with this one because a common “punishment” is time-out – but if the motivation is escape, they’re unintentionally reinforcing this behavior.

Access. The child may be engaging in a certain behavior to get access to a desired thing or activity. An example might be if they rip a toy from their sibling’s grip, simply because they wanted it. Doing so gave them access – and immediate gratification.

Automatic. We might also call this “sensory motivation.” The child engages in this behavior mainly because it feels good. For kids with autism, this could mean flapping their hands, banging their head, spinning in circles, etc. These can be some of the toughest behaviors to tackle because there often isn’t a good “consequence” for these. We may need to look closely at whether these are behaviors we truly need to address, or whether it is harmless stimming/self-soothing.

Our ABA therapy team uses evidence-based methods to help determine the child’s motivation, but also use positive reinforcement to help them to find more appropriate responses.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech 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:

Observing Behavior Using A-B-C Data, By Dr. Cathy Pratt, BCBA-D and Melissa Dubie, M.S., Indiana Resource Center for Autism

More Blog Entries:

5 To-Dos After Cleveland Autism Diagnosis, May 13, 2022, Cleveland ABA Therapy Blog