Focus on Generalization and Maintenance

On more than one occasion, I’ve been in the situation that a student will only demonstrate a skill in my presence. And I’ve heard from other colleagues that they have had similar experiences. This is highly problematic. When it happens with one of my students, there is only one person I can blame: myself.  A skill that a student can only demonstrate in my presence is a pretty useless skill and does nothing to promote independence.

TeacherSo what do you do when you find yourself in this situation? You reteach, with a focus on generalization. This means that, from the very beginning, you are teaching with a wide variety of materials, varying your instructions, asking other adults to help teach the skill, and demonstrating its use in a variety of environments. Preparing activities takes more time on the front-end for the teacher, but saves a ton of time later because your student is more likely to actually master the skill. (Generalization, after all, does show true mastery.)

Hopefully, you don’t have to do this, though. Hopefully, you’ve focused on generalization from the first time you taught the skill. You may see generalization built into materials you already use, such as 300-Noun List at AVB press.

Another commonly cited issue teachers of children with autism encounter is failure to maintain a skill. In my mind, generalization and maintenance go hand-in-hand, in that they require you to plan ahead and consider how, when, and where you will practice acquired skills. Here are a few tips that may help you with maintenance of skills:

  • Create notecards of all mastered skills. During the course of a session, go through the notecards and set aside any missed questions or activities. You might need to do booster sessions on these. (This can also be an opportunity for extending generalization by presenting the questions with different materials, phrases, environments, or people.)
  • Set an alert on your phone to remind you to do a maintenance test two weeks, four weeks, and eight weeks after the student has mastered the skill.
  • Create a space on your data sheets for maintenance tasks to help you remember not only to build maintenance into your programs, but also to take data on maintenance.

Considering generalization and maintenance from the outset of any teaching procedure is incredibly important. Often, when working with students with special needs, we are working with students who are already one or more grade levels behind their typically developing peers. Failing to teach generalization and maintenance, then having to reteach, is a waste of your students’ time.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.



Tip of the Week: Measure Group Behavior in the Classroom

Measure Group Behavior in the ClassroomMany classroom teachers are required to take data on the behavior of their students. However, this can feel like a daunting task given the many things teachers are trying to do simultaneously throughout the day! PLACHECK is a simple way to measure group behavior in the classroom for engagement or attention.

PLACHECK is short for Planned Activity Check. Let’s say that Ms. Esterman is using a partner activity for a math lesson for the first time in her fourth grade classroom. She wants to see if the kids remain engaged with the content during the partner activity. Here is how she can implement PLACHECK to collect data on engagement.

  1. Measure Group Behavior in the ClassroomSet a MotivAider for a predetermined interval (learn more about the MotivAider). The partner activity Ms. Esterman has organized will take a total of ten minutes. She decides to set the MotivAider for 2 minute intervals.
  2. At the start of the lesson, set the MotivAider to run and clip it to your waistband. For Ms. Esterman, the MotivAider will vibrate every two minutes to signal her to observe her students.
  3. When the MotivAider vibrates, collect tally data. Ms. Esterman feels the MotivAider vibrate, then quickly counts the number of students who are engaged in the partner activity.
  4. Continue to do this for each interval.
  5. Graph your data.

Ms. Esterman’s graph looks like this for her 24 students:


The next day, Ms. Esterman does a similar activity with her students, but uses an independent activity instead of a partner activity. She uses the same 5 steps to use PLACHECK to measure student engagement in the independent activity. Now she can easily compare engagement between the two types of activities. You can see both days graphed below:


When she compares the two days, she finds these results, and it allows her to make better decisions about what types of activities might work best for the individuals in her classroom. Here, it is clear that between these two activities, her students were more likely to be on task during partner work. However, Ms. Esterman would attain better results by taking more data.

PLACHECK is simple to implement. Ms. Esterman is able to collect this data in less than two minutes each day and can learn a lot from just that brief time.


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

Data Sheets Now Available for Hooray for Play!

I get pretty excited about pretend play and it isn’t unusual for me to engage colleagues at length in a conversation about how it can be incorporated into a learner’s home program using naturalistic behavioral methods. I can go on and on about all of the various play schemas that can be taught, my observations regarding which play schemas are of the greatest interest to the learner’s peer group at the moment, and regular items from around the house that can be incorporated as props.

The Hooray for Play! cards break down all of this information into a framework that is easy to reference and remember. Additionally, the simple illustrations provide visual stimuli to facilitate conversation about various schemas, to prime a student before play begins, or to help facilitate choice during pretend play. However, it isn’t long into our conversation when my colleagues ask, “What about the data?” Of course, this is where the conversation ends up because in an ABA program, all decisions are data-driven and based on observable and clearly defined target behaviors. However, with something as fluid as pretend play, it can sometimes feel a bit daunting to break the play down into smaller parts without scripting it completely.

The Hooray for Play! Data Sheets allow for the most salient elements of a play schema to be taught while still leaving room for variation and flexibility, which can be critical when generalizing to peers. Additionally, the targets are not predetermined so that they can be individualized for the learner. Below, you will find an example of the data sheet with some rows filled in to illustrate what it might look like. A blank version is also available in the set, so that it can be individualized for a specific learner.


There are a variety of techniques founded in the science of Applied Behavior Analysis that are effective in increasing and improving play skills. Research-based procedures can range from very structured to more naturalistic and should be chosen based on an approach best suited for the learner.

Some examples include:

  • Video Modeling
  • Play Scripts
  • Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
  • Peer Training

Charlop-Christy, M. H., Le, L., & Freeman, K. A. (2000). A comparison of video modeling with in vivo modeling for teaching children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30 (6), 537-552.

Goldstein, H. & Cisar, C.L. (1992). Promoting interaction during sociodramatic play: teaching scripts to typical preschoolers and classmates with disabilities. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25, 265–80.

Koegel, L.K., Koegel, R.L., Harrower, J.K. & Carter, C.M. (1999). Pivotal response intervention. I: Overview of approach. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 25, 174-85.

Stahmer, A.C. (1999). Using pivotal response training to facilitate appropriate play in children with autistic spectrum disorders. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 15, 29–40.

Pierce, K. & Schreibman, L. (1997). Using peer trainers to promote social behavior in autism: Are they effective at enhancing multiple social modalities? Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 12, 207–18.

Pick of the Week: The ABA Graphing CD

ABA, Discrete Trial Teaching, Verbal Behavior Analysis, Natural Environment Teaching, and Incidental Teaching Programs share one necessary common feature: Data collection and analysis! The process of translating collected data to interpretable, organized, meaningful visual displays can be a daunting, time consuming task for behavior analysts, parents, and teachers. The ABA Graphing CD will help you save time while making professional behavioral graphs. It contains a preformatted Excel™ spreadsheet for 30 ABA programs; a step-by-step guide describing and showing screen shots; a daily Data Sheet; Monthly Data Sheet; and ASAP™ Preference Assessment Form.
The preformatted spreadsheet allows you to enter data for up to 30 different ABA programs. Entered data automatically updates an individualized graph for that program and instantly produces high quality behavioral graphs. Each program is preformatted for three different steps. The CD is compatible with both Windows and Macintosh operating systems.

This week only, save 15% on the ABA Graphing CD by entering the Promo Code BLOGABAG at checkout.

*Offer expires on March 6, 2012 at 11:59 pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces after the Promo Code when you enter it at checkout.