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Real Life, Real Progress for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Real Life, Real Progress for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Strategies for Successful Generalization in Natural Environments
Volume Editor: Christina Whalen Ph.D., BCBA   Foreword Author: Lee Grossman   Chapter Authors: Anne Bernard, Andy Bondy Ph.D., BCBA-D, Shannon Cernich Ph.D, BCBA, Sabrina D. Daneshvar Ph.D., BCBA, Carol Davis, Anna Dvortcsak M.S., CCC-SLP, Lauren Franke Psy.D., William D. Frea Ph.D., BCBA, Lori Frost, Carol Gray, Brooke Ingersoll Ph.D., BCBA, Robert H. LaRue Ph.D., BCBA, Dominic W. Massaro Ph.D., Annie McLaughlin M.T., Ronit M. Molko Ph.D., BCBA, Daniel Openden Ph.D., BCBA-D, Nancy E. Rosenberg Ph.D., Laura Schreibman Ph.D., Ilene S. Schwartz Ph.D., BCBA-D, Bryna Siegel Ph.D., Aubyn C. Stahmer Ph.D.,, Jessica Suhrheinrich Ph.D., Manya Vaupel M.Ed., BCBA, Mary Jane Weiss Ph.D., BCBA-D, Christina Whalen Ph.D., BCBA

ISBN: 978-1-55766-954-4
Pages: 256
Copyright: 2009
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Size:  7.0 x 10.0
Stock Number:  69544
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Generalization is the key to effective autism intervention—when children can apply new skills across settings, they'll make broad, long-term improvements in behavior and social communication. The first how-to guide to generalization is finally here! Practical and reader-friendly, this is the book that helps professionals take today's most popular autism interventions to the next level by making generalization an integral part of them.

Pre-K–Grade 8 special educators, early interventionists, SLPs, and other professionals will

  • enhance 6 widely used autism intervention models with specific, evidence-based generalization strategies
  • get dozens of easy activities that really help children use new skills consistently—no matter where they are or who they're with
  • learn about generalization from the experts who know best, with contributions from top autism authorities like Ilene Schwartz, Carol Gray, Andy Bondy, Laura Schriebman, and Bryna Siegel
  • provide positive, supportive parent education so they can be active partners in promoting their children's generalization of skills
  • weave generalization strategies into every phase of intervention planning, not just at the end after skills have already been learned
  • modify generalization strategies for different settings, so children can achieve their ultimate goal: applying their skills successfully in school, at home, and in the community
  • assess the effectiveness of generalization strategies at multiple stages of instruction

Case studies and vivid examples bring the strategies to life in every chapter, and forms and checklists help professionals plan interventions, track children's goals, and monitor their progress toward generalization. With this urgently needed guide to one of the most important facets of autism intervention, readers will help children generalize social behaviors and communication skills—and ensure better lives and brighter futures.

Make generalization strategies a part of these popular interventions:

  • Pivotal Response Training
  • Discrete Trial Instruction
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
  • Social Stories™
  • Computer-Assisted Intervention
  • JumpStart Learning-to-Learn
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Review: ADVANCE for Speech-Language Pathologists & Audiologists
"Belongs on the must-read list of every professional who works with individuals on the autism spectrum. An exceptionally beneficial book about a topic too often overlooked."
Review: © 2009 Doody's Review Service, 5 stars
"Should be required reading for anyone involved in treating and/or teaching autistic children. This unique book is unmatched in the current literature and is poised to be the most useful addition to the field of autistic study to date."
Review by: Char Ugol, Parent/Advocate, Scottsdale, AZ
"Totally accessible . . . I couldn't put it down. 14 dog-eared pages, and lots of ideas swirling in my head for my team. So glad I ordered two copies to get us started!"
Review by: Peter F. Gerhardt, President & Chair, Scientific Council, Organization for Autism Research, Arlington, Virginia
"A valuable and user-friendly compendium of the latest in both research and evidence-based practice . . . This book is an overdue and important contribution to the field."
Review by: Tristram Smith, Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities, University of Rochester Medical Center
"The best hands-on guide to the most important part of intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders: helping the children take the skills they learn in intervention and use them whenever and wherever they need them."

About the Editor


Lee Grossman



1. Generalization and Autism Spectrum Disorders
Daniel Openden, Christina Whalen, Shannon Cernich, & Manya Vaupel

I. Popular Autism Interventions and Generalization Strategies

2. Enhancing Generalization of Treatment Effects via Pivotal Response Training and the Individualization of Treatment Protocols
Laura Schreibman, Aubyn C. Stahmer, & Jessica Suhrheinrich

3. Enhancing the Generalization of Skills Taught Through Discrete Trial Instruction
Mary Jane Weiss & Robert H. LaRue

4. Generalization Issues Pertaining to the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
Andy Bondy & Lori Frost

5. Social Stories, Categorization, and Generalization in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Carol Gray

6. Generalization in Computer-Assisted Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Christina Whalen, Dominic W. Massaro, & Lauren Franke

II. Generalization Applications to Parents, Schools, and Community

7. The JumpStart Learning-to-Learn Model: Parent Training in Naturalistic Teaching for Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders
Bryna Siegel & Anne Bernard

8. Increasing Generalization by Training Teachers to Provide Parent Training for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Brooke Ingersoll & Anna Dvortcsak

9. Generalization in School Settings: Strategies for Planning and Teaching
Ilene S. Schwartz, Carol Davis, Annie McLaughlin, & Nancy E. Rosenberg

10. Generalizing In-Home Treatment Gains
Sabrina D. Daneshvar, William D. Frea, & Ronit M. M. Molko


Excerpted from Real Life, Real Progress for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Strategies for Successful Generalization in Natural Environments
Edited by Christina Whalen, Ph.D., BCBA

Chapter 1: Generalization and Autism Spectrum Disorders
By Daniel Openden, Christina Whalen, Shannon Cernich, and Manya Vaupel
© 2009. Brookes Publishing. All rights reserved.


Antecedent Strategies

When planning for and teaching generalization, consider the following strategies:

  • Use interesting, preferred, and functional activities and items.

Students are more likely to engage in an activity when there is natural reinforcement associated with the activity. For example, if you want to teach turn taking in board games, find out what board games the children are playing at school. This way, if there is a group of children playing a particular game, your student will already know how to play and can then join the group.

  • Exaggerate and vary affect when interacting with your students.

Your students are the first ones to notice if something is boring. If you are not interested, they may not be either. Your student may not pick up on various moods or feelings if you are subtle. Often, students with ASDs have a delay in affect and have difficulty picking up on the affective states of others. Therefore, as a therapist, it is important to exaggerate your affect so that students may then notice various types of affect in others and better demonstrate affect themselves in different social situations. For example, if you find a missing puzzle piece while doing a puzzle with your student and want to show her that you are happy about it, exaggerate your happiness so that it is clear to her that you are happy about it. Say, “Yeah! I found the piece that goes here!” with a big smile on your face while looking at the child. Reciprocally, when she finds a missing piece, model the same reaction and wait for her to have the opportunity to display her affective response. It is also critical to vary your affective responses as people are not always going to be happy all the time and your time with your student is a good time to model and teach appropriate affect in various situations. This applies to negative emotions as well. For instance, if you are playing a video game with your student and your character gets knocked out of the game, you can model an appropriate affective response such as saying, “Oh no! Not again!” and frowning, but then also demonstrate a return to neutral affect by getting back into the game and saying, “Oh well, I’ll try it again.”

  • Vary your instructions.

The same question can be asked in many ways (e.g., “What is it?” “What do you see?” “Tell me what this is.” “Tell me about this!”). It is important for students with ASDs to know how to respond to a variety of instructions, questions, and comments to optimize generalization.

  • Vary your teaching environments and settings.
  • Watch carefully for mastery of skills.

Students will get bored easily if they are expected to continue to work on the same skill over and over again, especially if they have already demonstrated that they have learned it. Once a student masters a skill, immediately move it into generalization. Teach the skill with new materials, in new settings, and with new people and assess whether the child maintains the skill over time.

  • Intersperse tasks.

Mix and vary your materials, instructions, goals, and activities. The student should learn to discriminate his or her response based on the question or instruction and then respond appropriately.

  • Teach using multiple types of stimuli.

Sometimes it is necessary to use all possible stimuli that are appropriate for your student. For example, teach your student all varieties of fasteners on pants (e.g., snaps, zippers, buttons, hook and loop closures, belts, drawstrings) so that he or she is independent in every setting with his or her own clothing. However, in some cases it is not possible to teach all stimuli. In cases such as teaching every kind of dog, you may need to just have multiple exemplars (i.e., many examples, but not all) to teach the concept of dog.

  • Use stimuli that are routinely found in the natural environment.
Optimize generalization by using stimuli from the natural environment in the training environment whenever possible.

  • Use natural language.

Think of language and instructions that the students would typically expect during the activity outside of the training environment and in natural settings or situations. Then, when the student is working with other people or in natural environments, he or she is more likely to engage appropriately in the activity.

  • Train in natural settings as much as possible.

    If the behavior that you are working on with your student is only appropriate in a limited number of situations, then it is likely going to be more efficient and effective if you just work directly in those environments. For example, teaching grocery shopping is much more effective in the grocery store than it is in a mock grocery store. Similarly, if you are working on a play activity, try it on the floor rather than the worktable. If you are looking at books, try doing so on a beanbag chair or in a reading corner rather than just at a desk. By doing this, you will likely be able to determine what other skills need to be worked on when you are in the natural setting, which will help with future treatment plan goals.

    Response Strategies

    When working toward generalization, you can use the following techniques to help maximize your student’s success in everyday life:

    • Increase your student’s proficiency in the newly acquired goal.

    If the student has recently mastered a goal in the training environment but is not exhibiting that skill in the natural environment, try increasing your student’s performance of the target skill in the training environment (e.g., improving student’s response time). Increasing a student’s proficiency in the training environment ensures a stronger response, which will then provide a better chance at success in the natural environment. For example, when babies have become proficient at crawling from one place to another, it is often quite difficult for them to make the transition to walking. Because they often fall down and get frustrated, they are more likely to just crawl to the desired item or location. But, after working with a baby in the training setting (e.g., short jaunts between mom and dad), you will likely see a quick transition to walking in other environments because the baby has built up confidence and proficiency in the training setting with mom and dad.

    • Amplify the target response or make the target response more obvious.

    You will need to analyze whether the target response is reliably providing access to the natural reinforcers found in the generalization setting. If you find that the target response is not providing access to reinforcement, then you will need to change the target response in a way that will ensure access to natural reinforcers. For example, if your student is not getting a listener’s attention by simply saying the listener’s name, then teach the child to tap the listener on the arm while saying the listener’s name.

    Consequence Strategies

    After your student responds to generalization training, you can use the following techniques to address consequences and reinforcement:

    • Eliminate training reinforcers completely and thin your reinforcement schedule.

    In the training and acquisition environment, eliminate training reinforcers or any reinforcers that are considered to be artificial (i.e., not directly related to the desired behavior). Compare what should reinforce the behavior naturally with what is reinforcing the behavior in the training setting. Gradually fade out the artificial reinforcers while thinning your reinforcement schedule so that it better reflects what is found in natural settings.

    • Use varied and natural reinforcers.

    Natural reinforcers are directly and functionally related to the activity or desired behavior. For example, if a student loves to swing, try teaching all of the language associated with swinging (e.g., “push me,” “my turn,” “go higher,” “get down,” “underdog,” “spin me”). Because the consequences associated with these requests are naturally reinforcing, appropriate requests during a swinging activity are likely to increase.

    • Plan for consistency of caregiver responses in the natural environment.

    It is helpful if everyone involved in the student’s treatment plan (e.g., parents, caregivers, extended family, school staff) receives training and information on how to effectively respond to your student across settings. For example, everyone will know to answer the student’s most commonly asked question (e.g., “When were you born?”) only if the student asks an appropriate social question first (e.g., “What did you do this weekend?” or “Having a good day?”) in order to increase the frequency of appropriate social questions from the student.

    • Reinforce only generalized behavior.

    Sometimes it is necessary to systematically plan to only reinforce behavior that has not been demonstrated before. For example, if you are trying to teach your student to explore more playground equipment, you may need to only provide reinforcement when the student tries a new piece of equipment.

    • Program for naturally occurring consequences.

    Often, a student’s target behavior is not necessarily observed due to subtleties in social interactions and natural reinforcers are provided by the event itself. For example, the possibility of a social punisher motivates most adults to avoid engaging in certain inappropriate behaviors (e.g., being frowned at if we bump someone with our grocery cart, our conversation partner interrupting us if we dominate the conversation too much, someone hanging up on us if we are being rude on the telephone or walking away if we are being disrespectful). These are natural consequences to inappropriate behavior and may need supplemental training so that your student understands that other people typically do not respond well to these types of behaviors.

    • Teach your student to solicit reinforcement in structured and natural settings.

    Teach your student to follow a target behavior with an additional behavior that will normally elicit social approval both in the structured and less structured setting. In a structured environment such as playing a board game, your student may easily give up his or her turn for another student if he or she has learned to consistently and spontaneously seek desired praise from the teacher. You will also need to train in less structured settings such as taking turns riding bikes at recess and seeking reinforcement from playground staff.

    • Teach self-reinforcement.

    If reinforcement is sparse or unidentifiable in the generalization setting, consider teaching your student to self-reinforce for accuracy of his or her own behavior. Remember that self-reinforcement can be difficult, and portability is key. Often, just the training involved in teaching self-reinforcement increases the proficiency of the target behavior. For instance, an older student is learning to stay on task on his job. He carries a vibrating timer that is pre-programmed to vibrate at varying times throughout his work session before his first break. At each intermittent timing, he checks in with himself to determine if he is on task (i.e., he was taught to ask himself each time the timer went off, “Am I on task?”). If he decides that he was on task, he gives himself a star on his “on task chart.” At the end of his work session, he adds up his stars and if he has enough stars, he buys himself a soda to drink during his break. It is important to note that before this program was implemented in the workplace, the student first learned how to selfreinforce his own behavior with his instructor during his one-to-one work. The program was then introduced in his classroom with his teacher before moving it to his job setting.

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