One of the challenges children with autism face is transferring newly learned skills to other environments. That’s why the generalization of skills is one of the main focuses of ABA therapy, especially for children receiving services in a clinical setting. Below, we explain different generalization strategies used by ABA therapists. 

What Is Generalization?

Generalization is an essential component of ABA therapy. It consists of teaching children with autism how to apply newly mastered skills in different situations. Generalization allows to extend the effects of ABA therapy to new environments where clinical services may not be available.

What are the benefits of generalization?

The ability to apply newly learned skills to a variety of settings has many benefits for children on the autism spectrum:


  • It improves the long-term retention of skills.
  • It promotes self confidence and independence.
  • It allows for the recalibration of behavior, that is modifying skills to suit changes in the environment over time.
  • It sets the ground for better interaction with others.


In the following sections, we explain three forms of generalization in ABA therapy crucial for effective treatment: stimulus generalization, response generalization, and skill maintenance. 

Stimulus Generalization

Stimulus generalization refers to performing a learned skill in new situations. When a child is asked to grab a handful of something, he or she should be able to provide the same response regardless of the type of stimuli, for example, a handful of popcorn, a handful of sand, or a handful of LEGO bricks. 

Training loosely 

Training loosely is a stimulus generalization method that consists of teaching skills in a variety of instructional settings, at different times of the day, and with different people involved. One of the simplest ways to train loosely is by altering materials, for instance, using different pens, pencils, crayons, and paper. This technique encourages the child to learn across settings and makes it less likely that the child’s response will be interrupted by the presence of an unfamiliar item, person, or situation.

Response Generalization

Response generalization occurs when a child successfully uses newly learned skills and the variation of these skills in different contexts. For example, if a child learns how to zip up the jacket and is then also able to zip up the backpack, then the skill of using a zipper has been generalized. Contrary to stimulus generalization where multiple stimuli generate the same response, response generalization occurs when the same stimulus generates multiple responses. 

Maintenance of Learned Skills

Skill maintenance is one of the most important elements of successful ABA therapy. Maintenance means that a previously acquired skill is retained over time and that the child can perform it without reinforcement. 


An example of skill maintenance is tying shoelaces. After this complex task is learned, the child should not need any prompts or rewards. If the child continues to tie shoes independently in different settings, we can say that this skill has been generalized.

Skill maintenance strategies

One of the principal maintenance strategies is the repetition of skills and applying them to multiple contexts and locations. In addition to repetition, the reinforcement of learned skills can be done through: 


  • Building onto existing habits
  • Prompting
  • Scaffolding (offering support)
  • Specific skill reinforcement.


Here are some things therapists and other individuals working with children with autism must keep in mind when it comes to skill maintenance:

  • Prioritize practicing newly acquired skills in natural environments, for example, at home, in school, or on the playground. 
  • Integrate skill maintenance into the child’s daily routine. Children with autism appreciate predictability, and this will make practicing skills easier.
  • Stay consistent when it comes to requirements. The child may forget skills if they are allowed to revert to easier behaviors.


Keep on reading to learn more about the best strategies for teaching the generalization of skills.

Strategies to Enhance Generalization

  • Teach through multiple examples across a variety of settings, objects, behaviors, and other aspects. For example, if you want to teach the word “cat”, you should use pictures of many different types of cats to help the child generalize the skill. 
  • Make sure that learning occurs not only during planned times but also spontaneously in a variety of situations throughout the day. 
  • Have more than one instructor help the child practice the skill. The child should be able to perform the skill during interaction with different people, including unfamiliar individuals.
  • Teach behaviors in a wide range of environments, such as the school, the playground, and the classroom. For example, if you teach a child to use an inside voice, he or she should practice that behavior in different locations, for example, their grandparents’ house, a library, or a grocery store.
  • Teach the child how to respond to multiple instructions that have the same meaning, for instance, “How old are you?” and “What’s your age?” The child should learn that although these questions are different, they require the same response.
  • Prioritize functional behaviors that are most likely to be useful to the child in their everyday life.
  • Train loosely by showing the child that there are multiple possible responses in a situation, for example, if the child feels cold, he or she can choose to put on a sweater or get a blanket.
  • Avoid skill overgeneralization by making sure that the child knows when they can and can’t use a particular skill. When teaching a new skill, it is essential to also teach times and situations where using that skill is appropriate.
  • Reinforce the child whenever generalization occurs and they successfully demonstrate a skill outside of the teaching environment, in the presence of different people, or when they vary responses appropriately.
  • Make sure that the child has ample opportunities to practice newly learned skills even after they are fully mastered.
  • Try one generalization approach at a time, adjusting as necessary.
  • Remember that generalization requires plenty of planning, consistency, and patience. It is important to give the child enough time to transfer learned skills to new environments. 


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.

Sign up for our Newsletter

Enter your email and stay on top of things,