Generalization in ABA Therapy: Why Is It So Important?
Generalization is an area that quality practitioners need to emphasize. Like we’ve said since the beginning, this is particularly challenging when a behavior analyst is only providing services in the center. At Cultivate, we provide services where it matters most. We utilize a hybrid model, so we work at homes, schools, our centers, and anywhere else we can bring about meaningful behavior change. The subject in this blog post is generalization and we’ll explore what that means on a very practical level.
Generalization, most simply and most practically, is the ability to utilize new skills in other settings and with other people. There are other elements with generalization, but we’ll only be emphasizing generalization across settings and people. In order to get deeper while still being very practical, let me provide an example. We had a kiddo that we served in our center in California, who HATED wearing his karate uniform. I say hated, but really what I mean is that he would engage in meltdown-like behavior when mom pulled out the karate uniform. She voiced her concerns about the routine, and we wanted to jump in and help. We asked mom to send the uniform to the center during our Saturday social group. During the session, we practiced multiple times, putting the uniform on. We reinforced him with his most powerful reinforcers, yet we were still perplexed as to why we were not experiencing the same meltdown behavior. Why is that? There’s so many variables at work, that it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons, but I hypothesize that it’s because we were more reinforcing. That’s not to knock mom, but when you’re in a session and your only role is to crush it as a practitioner, then it’s a lot easier. You’re likely wondering what we did. We did not send him on his way, and say to mom “good luck!” Had we done that, I imagine he would have made no real progress putting on the uniform with mom. BTW, soap box, this is why these center-based only operations are missing the mark so much. So many skills get overlooked because you can only experience so much in a center. It’s not real life, which is an issue, but I digress.
When mom arrived, we coached her on what we wanted to accomplish in order to generalize this new skill, which was putting on the uniform (without melting down of course). We stayed right there, and we gave the direction to put on the uniform, but it was mom that actually assisted, and not us. Then, we had mom reinforce, with equally powerful reinforcement. To everyone’s surprise, instead of stopping there, we said that we wanted to do it again. Mom knew what was happening, and was completely on-board with practicing this multiple times, with reduced coaching and her leading the charge. So the next trial, mom provided the direction and put on the uniform and reinforced her son, but we were still there. We did the same thing again, but this time our staff stepped back. We did it again, and we stepped back even more. We did it a last time, but this time we were outta the room completely. Mom did it! She was thrilled with how the strategy worked. I’m also excited to say that it never was an issue again, and in fact, he even started doing better at home with putting on other clothes that previously evoked meltdown behavior. How did all this happen? Magic? Not at all, it was simply a generalization strategy done right. It was the ABA provider saying that we’re not gonna settle with changing behavior in the center, while behavior change is still needed at home. It was the mom that decided that it did not have to be this way, so she worked up the energy to tackle the issue alongside her BCBAs and BTs. That’s how this happened, not magic, just science, well practiced.
This is why I love ABA. It changes lives by changing behavior, through making subtle changes and manipulating certain variables, that lead to significant change and improvement in the daily routines that parents endure (I use the word endure because certain routines are hard, especially when our kiddos struggle).
What can you do after reading this post, to make generalization a priority?
If you’re not a Cultivate client, become one (assuming you live in the areas that we serve)! If you are, talk to your BCBA about the skills that need more generalizing. You know your kiddo better than anyone, and you’re with them more than anyone. Communicate, a lot, knowing that we love you and want to serve you exceedingly well. Rob, our Founder, likes to work in “rally cries,” which are basically things that we’re really FOCUSED on with you. It could be little things, or big things, but the idea is that we’re FOCUSED and making progress in one significant direction. For more on “Rally Cries,” check out the next blog post as Rob digs deeper into those.
All in all, we hope that you learned more about the subject. Let us know how we could be serving you!
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Wanna be a part of the Cultivate team? Currently, we are hiring Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) in the San Antonio, Austin, and the Houston area. Apply to become the next Cultivator!