A diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in a child leads to a lot of planning, questions, and problem-solving. One of the biggest concerns for parents is generalization. Generalization refers to a child’s ability to generalize skills learned in a therapeutic setting and being able to use them in the real world.


What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is a therapy that draws a connection between learning, environment, and behavior in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ABA is shown to improve attention and focus, as well as language and social skills.

Play Therapy in Applied Behavior Analysis

One of the best versions of ABA therapy is when the clinicians use play-based therapy. The method of using play during ABA helps your child work on social skills and other life skills.

With play therapy, children are encouraged to move freely about and explore their surroundings. This exploration can take place in their natural environment which can be mimicked at a center like Blossom.

A setting where your child feels at ease allows them to express themselves, which is invaluable for your aba therapist to observe. Your child’s aba therapist can note responses to reinforce or to work on changing while your child plays naturally in a safe setting.

What is Generalization in Play Therapy?

Your child’s learned skills needs to extend beyond the center and translate to everyday life. Therefore, effective generalization in ABA therapy becomes very important to your child’s goals.

Generalization’s importance cannot be overemphasized. In broad terms, generalization is the ability to use new skills in other settings and with other people. You can help your child practice the skills they have learned in therapy in real world settings such as trips to the grocery store or a play date at the park.

You’ll know you’re succeeding at generalization when your child’s positive skills translate over time and shows lasting effects in different settings.

So what’s the best way to practice these skills outside of the center-based setting? Your aba therapist will provide you with instructions regarding the proper strategies to help with the generalization process.

Essential terms related to generalization:

Response Generalization

Response generalization occurs when your child shows a positive learned behavior in a novel way and is something that you should look for to gauge your child’s progress.

For example, after learning to use a spoon to eat cereal, response generalization would include your child selecting to use a spoon to eat ice cream.

Stimulus Generalization

This term applies to your child’s potential inability to discriminate between similar stimuli. Imagine if your child learned to call their father “dad.”

Overgeneralization would occur if they called another male “dad,” as well. While their father a man, not every male is their father. Thus, calling another man “dad” is an example of stimulus generalization.

Stimulus Discrimination

While stimulus generalization focuses on your child’s ability to discriminate between two stimuli and respond to them differently.

For example, imagine showing your child two pictures. On the left is a cat, and on the right is a dog. If the picture placement never changes, your child may not necessarily internalize what makes a cat a cat. They may only learn to point to the left image.

What happens if you switch the picture placement and ask your child to identify the cat? They may end up pointing to the left picture, which now shows a dog.

Participating During ABA

As the parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, your role will involve practicing and reinforcing positive learned behavior at home, during play. Some parents may be scared that they will “mess up,” or somehow set their child’s progress back. Worry is a normal response, as working with your child on positive changes is a lot of responsibility!

You will learn strategies and techniques during your child’s ABA sessions, so you will not be entering into your role with no support or understanding of what to do.

By seeing it in action and noting the effect it can have on learning, you’ll be able to carry out these strategies in your daily life. Participating in your child’s sessions not only gives you more confidence and knowledge to carry out generalization outside the center, but it also normalizes your role in the process with your child.

Play Therapy at Home

Implementing your child’s new skills at home doesn’t have to be overly complicated. It can be as easy as playing a simple game or trying a new activity.

A great game to play to reinforce learned behaviors is Simon Says, as it involves a variety of elements reinforced during play therapy with your child’s aba therapist. By having your child study your body language and facial expressions during the game, you will see them mimic what you are demonstrating, both physically and verbally.

It’s important to remember to encourage your child for showing the appropriate responses during play therapy. Meaningful positive reinforcement will make your child feel proud of their success. This helps solidify their understanding of how to respond in certain situations. A high five or verbal praise can really motivate your child!

Children playing.

Setbacks in Generalization

No matter how much progress your child makes, there is always the chance that you may encounter some setbacks. After making strides in generalizing, such a setback can be frustrating for you and your child. Rest assured that this is often common and part of the process.

The more you can identify triggers the easier it will be to overcome them. Preparing your child for setbacks is crucial, as well. If your child is aware a setback can happen and is no cause for alarm, they will be more likely to move on from the setback more easily.

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