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What is Generalization?

Learning can be influenced by a variety of factors, including the person who is teaching the student, the materials used, and the environment in which they learn these skills.

Generalization refers to a student’s ability to perform a skill under a variety of conditions (stimulus generalization), the ability to apply a skill differently (response generalization), and a student’s ability to continue to demonstrate that skill over time (maintenance). Often students are able to generalize skills both in how they demonstrate the skill and in how they respond. Some students however may have a greater level of difficulty demonstrating a skill in an environment that is different from where it was taught. Students can improve their independence and flexibility by applying skills they learn in a variety of contexts, with different people, and with different materials.

Instructional vs. Generalized Setting

Instructional Setting: The environment where teaching occurs. This includes any aspect of the environment, planned or unplanned, that influences the kiddo’s learning or obtaining new skills/behavior.

  • Example: Anywhere your kiddo is being taught, or anything used to aid in teaching your kiddo! School, clinic, home with an RBT, teaching materials/stimuli, etc.

Generalized Setting: Any place or stimuli/materials/people that differ in some meaningful way from the instructional setting where the desired skill/behavior is expected. 

  • Example: Your home without an RBT present, using different presentations of taught materials, out in the community, with you or other family members, etc.

Types of Generalization

There are two types of generalization: stimulus and response.

Stimulus Generalization refers to when different but physically similar stimuli evoke the same response. It is also known as a loose degree of stimulus control. For example, if a child were taught how to use the potty on only one toilet, his ability to go potty on a different toilet in another environment would demonstrate stimulus generalization.

Response Generalization is how the learner can issue a behavior that is functionally equal to the behavior that was taught. This is the case of stimuli that occasion novel responses. For example, when you are instructed to say “hello” when someone enters the room. You start saying “hey,” “hi,” and “what’s up” (untaught responses) when someone enters the room.

promoting generalization

  1. Take note of the skills being worked on with your child’s BTs. 

Are they working on labeling clothing items? Getting a verbal yes/no response? Interrupting conversations appropriately? Asking for a break?

Your supervisor, upon request, can supply your child’s list of programs.

  1.  Look for opportunities to support this skill outside of the session.

Label the names of clothing items as you are helping dress for bedtime. Ask the child to say yes/no if they want something before handing it to them freely. Remind them to say excuse me before interrupting their sibling. Offer/have them ask for a break during homework time. 

  1.  Make it fun! REINFORCE the heck out of desired responses! 

    e.g., tickles, praise, attention, whatever makes them happy ☺

Common challenges & possible solutions

  • Ask the supervisor to update you on your child’s program goals 
  • Request a simplified version to use outside of the session
  • Ask for parent goals
  • Don’t be afraid to jump in during sessions!
  • Shape your behavior outside of the session, slowly moving up on what you require of the child 
  • Practice goals in times when a child is happy, relaxed, and engaged 

Why is Generalization Important?

  • ABA isn’t meant to last forever 
  • We want the child to be able to apply the skills learned during the session! 
  • Mastery has not yet been fully achieved until the behavior can be performed across all settings with multiple people.
  • Increased independence = increased quality of life for all involved 



ABA in the Classroom 


Content provided by Madi Wade and Nicole Hubbard of SOAR Idaho. 

For more blog posts by SOAR Behavior Services, visit

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