Successful Generalization and ABA

Successful generalization is best taught at the very core of a structured well planned ABA Program.  Students on the autism spectrum have many barriers interfering with generalization of learned skills in areas like communication and language, academics, play, or social situations.

The wide range of skill deficits and barriers for each ASD child affects each differently.

ABA gives practitioners the framework necessary to critically analyze the variables that lead to behavior, but systematic programming in how to teach for generalization deserves the same attention and specificity that curriculum development has received for treating ASD.

Many individuals with ASD have difficulties generalizing from a structured learning environment to the “real world” independent of their functioning level. This is likely due to the degree they are affected by the disorder and their individual learning styles, which, in turn, affects their rate of acquisition, maintenance, and generalization of new concepts.

To simply rely on teaching structured skills puts practitioners in a “train and hope” situation when addressing generalization.

Practitioners can plan and effectively train for generalized behavior change by using The R.E.A.L Model, Rethinking Generalization: Recreating Environments to Accelerate Learning. The R.E.A.L. Model teaches for generalization using a unique 5 level process, which systematically changes environmental antecedents and consequences in order to increase skill acquisition and generalization.

R.E.A.L Model Levels of Generalization

Level 1: The R.E.A.L. Model begins in level 1 focusing on the behavioral process to teach for generalization during stimulus discrimination training of concepts and the teaching of skill acquisition taught in a highly structured environment.

Level 2: In level 2, the process continues with systematically introducing stimuli and contingencies within a structured teaching setting focusing on stimulus generalization in the teaching of concept formation.

Level 3: At level 3, behavioral persistence and retention becomes the focus when training for generalization across settings and time as stimuli and conditions from the natural environment are introduced from a structured to a semi-structured teaching setting.

Level 4: As concepts, skills, and language are acquired at mastery, targets are moved to level 4 where special emphasis is on bridging concepts and skills and bringing behaviors under multiple control with daily routines. The focus is on teaching for generalization of complex repertoires the child will use in the natural environment in the shaping of behavioral cusps.

Level 5: Finally, Level 5 focuses on the teaching of social repertoires generalization on the verbal community. Emphasis of teaching is on social competence and flexibility while training the needed social skills in play and communication when the child interacts with peers, family, and the community.

ABA is not a commodity, but a scientific evidenced-based discipline informed by the principles of behavior analysis and generalization is crucial for treatment effectiveness and social validity. By teaching for generalization alongside and within a structured  ABA program, we can prepare a new generation of learners for success.

About The Author

Brenda J. Terzich-Garland is the author of Rethinking Generalization, The R.E.AL. Model: Recreating Environments to Accelerate Learning, published in 2020. Ms. Terzich-Garland received her Masters degree in Psychology (with a concentration in Behavior Analysis) from the California State University, Sacramento and is Board Certified Behavior Analyst.  She is Co-founder and Trustee, Chief Clinical Officer and Vice-President/CEO of Applied Behavior Consultants, Inc. (ABC, Inc) and has been an officer of the California Association for Behavior Analysis.  Ms. Terzich-Garland also has been certified by Pyramid Educational Consultants, Inc. as a PECS Supervisor and Implementer.  She is a member of the International Association for Behavior Analysis (ABA), California Association for Behavior Analysis (Cal-ABA) and has served as a Board Member for the B.F. Skinner Foundation. 

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