Maintenance & Generalization
In previous lessons you learned about behavior change procedures and interventions that can be used to build appropriate behaviors and decrease inappropriate behaviors or problem behaviors. Whether the goal of treatment is to build a new behavior or decrease an existing problem behavior it is important that these behavior changes continue over time, occur in all relevant situations and settings, and spread to other related behaviors. This lesson will introduce you to three terms that describe behavior changes with these characteristics. The procedures required to produce changes in behavior are often intrusive and costly and in most cases cannot be continued indefinitely, therefore it is important that BIPs and Skill Repertoire Building programs include methods that produce maintenance.
Maintenance is the continuation of a behavior change after all or part of the intervention responsible for the behavior change has been faded or terminated. Practically speaking, maintenance is the extent to which the child continues to demonstrate reductions of problem behaviors and increases in appropriate behaviors. Simply put, the newly learned skills and behaviors last or maintain even after the procedures and interventions for producing these behavior changes have been partially or completely removed.
Example w/ Skill Repertoire Building:
A child has learned to brush their teeth independently. The therapy used a variety of behavior change procedures as the child progressed through the lesson including prompting, prompt fading, reinforcement and chaining. Now three months later the therapy team has removed all prompts, and has thinned the reinforcement schedule to an intermittent schedule and the child is still brushing their teeth independently. Although the procedures used to teach the child have been removed or faded the child’s ability to brush their teeth independently has maintained.
Example w/ Behavior Management:
It is important that decreases in problem behavior are maintained after all or part of the intervention(s) have been systematically removed. A child has attention maintained crying behavior. The BCBA developed a BIP for the crying behavior that specified a time-out procedure. Over time the intervention resulted in a drastic reduction of the crying behavior. Now the child engages in age appropriate lower level crying behavior (such as falling and skinning a knee) even though it has been six weeks since the time out procedure was removed. Again, the reduction in the child’s crying behavior has maintained even after the intervention has been removed.
The length of time a newly acquired behavior change must be maintained varies depending on the relative importance of that change throughout the child’s life. Behaviors such as brushing one’s teeth, or appropriately greeting a friend must be maintained throughout the child’s lifetime. Similarly, maintaining low levels of problem behavior indefinitely such as crying or aggression is necessary for a child’s success. However, there are some behaviors that only need to be maintained for a shorter period of time and are no longer necessary for the child’s future success, such as writing in cursive (which may be necessary for a child’s success in elementary school but not necessarily when they reach later grades). In this case if the child maintains good cursive throughout elementary school than that behavior has been adequately maintained. Regardless of the length of time a behavior needs to be maintained maintenance is critical to the child’s future success. When working as a therapist if they notice a child is failing to maintain a newly acquired skill or reduction in problem behavior it is critical to inform the BCBA.
For obvious reasons, it is not always possible to implement teaching procedures or behavior interventions in every situation or setting for which a specific behavior change is desired. Additionally, it’s not always possible to teach every specific response that a child might need in a given situation, therefore it is important that the teaching procedures and interventions implemented produce generalization.
Generalization broadly refers to behavior changes that appear in relevant settings and stimulus situations, and spread to related functionally equivalent behaviors without direct training. Practically speaking, generalization occurs when a child uses a newly acquired skills in novel and appropriate situations or settings and further, engages in new forms of the newly acquired behavior or skill without being taught to do so.
Setting/Situation generalization refers to the extent to which a child engages in a target behavior without direct training in settings or stimulus situations that are different from those in which the child originally learned the target behavior. Simply stated, setting/situation generalization occurs when a child engages in a target behavior in the presence of new or different environments, people, visual stimuli and verbal stimuli that were not directly trained.
Example w Skill Repertoire Building/ Environment:
At home a child has been taught to ask for more when they are still thirsty after drinking all of their juice. Although the child has never been taught directly to do so the child has begun to ask for more when they are still thirsty at restaurants with his family. In this example, the target behavior “requesting more” occurred without direct training in a different environment, so the target behavior has generalized across environments
Example w Behavior Management/ Environment:
At home a child a BCBA has implemented a Differential Reinforcement of Other Procedure (DRO) which has resulted in a decrease of the child’s automatically maintained vocal stereotypy. After the intervention was implemented at home, the child’s stereotypy also decreased significantly during PE at school even though the DRO procedure was not implemented there. In this example, even though the intervention occurred at home the reduction also occurred at school without direct intervention. This reduction of the child’s problem behavior has generalized across environments.
Example w Skill Repertoire Building/ People:
At home a child has learned to get their shoes when asked to do so by their mother. One day, the parents went out for the day and the grandparents came to stay. While visiting the grandfather asks the child to get their shoes and the child gets their shoes. In this example, the target behavior “get shoes” generalized across people even though it was not directly taught.
Example w Behavior Management/ People:
The therapy team and parents have implemented a Differential Reinforcement of Alternate Behavior (DRA) for the child’s escape maintained biting behavior. As a result the child has learned to ask for help instead of biting when the parents or therapists present a difficult task. One evening the child’s babysitter gives the child a difficult puzzle to complete. Although the child’s babysitter has never implemented the DRA procedure the child refrains from biting and asks the babysitter for help. The behavior has generalized across people because it was never directly taught with the babysitter.
Example w Skill Repertoire Building/ Visual Stimuli:
The therapist has taught a child to point and say “dog” when the child sees the family’s hound dog. Later the neighbors dalmatian runs into the yard and the child points and says “dog” even though the child had never been directly taught to do so. In this example, the child engages in the target behavior “pointing & saying dog” in the presence of a dog who is different than the one used to teach the behavior. So the target behavior has generalized across visual stimuli.
Example w Behavior Management/ Visual Stimuli:
The therapy team and parents have implemented a Differential Reinforcement of Alternate Behavior (DRA) for the child’s tangible maintained screaming behavior. They have taught the child to request “cookie please” instead of screaming when they are hungry and see a box of their favorite cookie in the pantry. Over the weekend the parents bake chocolate chip cookies and the cookies were cooling on the counter, and though the child was not taught to explicitly as for this type of cookie the child requested “cookie please” instead of screaming. In this example the behavior has generalized across visual stimuli because the target behavior continued in the pretense of a visual stimuli that was different than the one used during the training.
Example w Skill Repertoire Building/ Verbal Stimuli:
The therapy team has taught the child to sit down in response to the direction or SD “Sit down”. In one of the therapy sessions a therapist says, “take a seat”. Although the child has never been taught to sit in response to this particular SD the child sat. In this example the child engages in the target behavior “sit” in response to an instruction that is different than the one previously learned. The target behavior has generalized across verbal stimuli.
Example w Behavior Management/ Verbal Stimuli:
When peers ask a child social questions, the child screams “No” and runs away. The therapy team has implemented a Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible behavior (DRI) to reduce the child’s escape maintained inappropriate social behavior. Staying and responding appropriately to their peers is incompatible with screaming no and running away. The team has taught the child to respond appropriately to peers in local community settings when asked a variety of questions, including: “What’s your name?”, “How are you?”, “How old are you?”, “Do you want to play?”, and “What do you want to do?”. One day at the park a peer walks up to the child and says, “Do you want to do something?”. The child responds appropriately by saying “sure” instead of screaming and running away even though this specific question was never taught. The target behavior has generalized across verbal stimuli.
Response generalization is the extent to which a child engages in behaviors that have not been directly trained, that are functionally equivalent to the trained target behavior. What this means is that, response generalization is when the child engages in new forms of behavior as a result of interventions and procedures that have been applied to the target behavior.
A child has been taught to use the past tense verbs for: Kick, clap and wave in response to the questions, “What did you do?”. In other words, the child can answer the question by saying things like, “I kicked the ball” or “I clapped my hands” or “I waved goodbye” when relating past events. Later when the child’s parents picked them up from a friends house they asked the child “what did you do?” and the child responded, “I watched TV”. Without direct training the child generalized the target behavior “past tense phrasing when asked what did you do” across responses.
A child has been taught to gain a person’s attention by tapping on their shoulder instead of screaming. Although never taught to do so, sometimes the child touches a person’s hand in order to get their attention. Again, this different but functionally equivalent gesture is an example of response generalization.
A child has learned to request an item by placing their mother’s hand on the item. One day the child saw an item on the top of the fridge and requested that item by pointing to the item on top of the fridge. This is another example of a functionally equivalent gesture of response generalization.
In each of these examples response generalization occurred, that is, a new form of behavior emerged as a result of procedures applied to the target behavior.
In this lesson you have seen how maintenance, setting/situation generalization, and response generalization occur independently, however often times they occur in combination.
During a child’s therapy sessions at home the therapist has taught the child to ask for help by handing the therapist a card that says, “help” and taught the child to ask for items that were out of reach, and containers that they could not open. A month later the child was at school playing with a toy that does not work. The child asks the teacher for help by showing the teacher the toy that isn’t working.
Let’s look more closely at this scenario. Maintenance is occurring because the child is engaging in the behavior a month later. Setting/Situation generalization is occurring because the environment, stimuli and the person are all different from those when taught the behavior. Response generalization has also occurred because the child was able to ask for help despite not having the “help” card.
When teaching a child a new skill or designing an intervention to reduce a specific problem behavior the BCBA is always striving to strike an appropriate balance between desired generalization and discrimination. Recall that discrimination training is the process of reinforcing a Target Response or Behavior only when a Target Antecedent of SD is present. As a result of this process the target response or behavior is more likely to occur only when the Target Antecedent or SD is present. However, in some cases it can be problematic when limited to a narrow range of stimulus conditions or SDs.
Returning to the example of the child learning to point and say “dog”. It would be problematic if the child only pointed at their dog and failed to recognize or identify other dogs. In this example the stimulus control (the child’s personal dog) is too narrow or specific and the BCBA would need to modify the lesson to expand the SD to include other dogs and promote the expansion of the tact “dog” to all different types of dogs. It would be equally problematic if the child pointed to any furry four-legged animal and identified it as a dog. That would be an instance of unwanted setting/situation generalization where stimulus control is too loose. In that situation the BCBA would modify the lesson to contract the SD to eliminate or promote discrimination of other mammals from identification.
Whenever a therapist notices inappropriate or unwanted generalization it is important to notify the BCBA so that they may modify the child’s plan accordingly. Additionally, the therapist needs to respond appropriately to the child at the time of the behavior. If a child engages in inappropriate or problematic generalization the child’s response is an error and an error correction procedure should be implemented.
In previous lessons you learned three types of error correction procedures:
- No, Prompt, Fade: Includes an informational “no, representing the target SD with a prompt, and than fade the prompt over subsequent trials or opportunities.
- Least to Effective Prompts:
- No, No, Prompt, Repeat:
Since most instances of unwanted generalization or discrimination will most likely involve a response that has not yet been taught the therapist should use the same error correction procedure that would be used when a child makes an error on a skill that is in the early stages of acquisition, that is, the No Prompt Fade error correction procedure.
In order for a child to be successful it is critical that changes to a child’s behavior last over time, occur in all relevant settings and situations, and spread to other relevant functionally equivalent behaviors.
This lesson has introduced you to maintenance, setting/situation generalization, and response generalization, three terms that describe each of these outcomes. Because generalization and maintenance are critical to a child’s success it is important that the need for appropriate generalization and maintenance is understood, moreover that the therapist can respond appropriately to problematic generalization and discrimination.
Planning for Maintenance & Generalization
As learned in previous lessons the program supervisor is responsible for identifying each child’s particular deficits across all skill domains. And any problem behaviors that may interfere with the child’s success in their every day life. Before designing the Skill Repertoire Building Lessons and/or the Behavior Intervention Plans to treat the child’s identified skill deficits and problem behaviors it is important that the BCBA plan for maintenance and generalization of these behavior changes. This lesson introduces you to the steps that a BCBA takes to plan for the maintenance and appropriate generalization of behavior targets.
Instructional and Generalization Settings
Instructional Setting: Refers to the setting and/or stimulus situation in which the child originally learns the target behavior. The instructional setting includes all aspects of the setting that may influence the child’s acquisition of the target beahvior including:
- Materials used
- Instructions given
- People present
At home a child has learned to get their shoes when asked by a parent. The instructional setting for this target behavior includes the physical location of the training, the presence of the parents, the instruction “get your shoes”, and the particular shoes the child is taught to retrieve.
Generalization Setting: Refers to any setting or stimulus other than the instructional setting, in which the target behavior is desired.
Returning to the above example, there are many potential generalization settings for this target behavior (get shoes). At school the child’s teacher may say, “find your shoes” when noticing that the child is not wearing them. The child’s swim instructor at the community pool may, “get your sandals”, when spending the weekend at their grandparents home the grandfather or grandmother may say “go get your slippers” when the child comes down stairs in the morning in bare feet.
As can be seen in each of these examples, the physical location, the specific instruction, the people present and the stimuli are different from the instructional setting where the child learned the target behavior. However, it is equally important the child is able to respond to the target behavior in any of these generalization settings. Anticipating relevant generalization settings for each target behavior is the responsibility of the BCBA. The BCBA outlines the critical aspects of instructional setting for each target behavior in the child’s ABA program and has designed the child’s lessons to promote maintenance and appropriate generalization for each target behavior. For this reason it is important the BCBA’s instructions are followed carefully to ensure promotion of maintenance and appropriate generalization of each target behavior.
Maintenance and Generalization Steps
In order to produce behavior changes that maintain and generalize, careful and systematic pre-intervention planning is done by the BCBA. There are at least four steps that are included in this pre-planning intervention process.
- Selecting target behaviors that will contact naturally existing contingencies of reinforcement in generalization settings:
- Identifying all of the behaviors and/or response variations necessary for the child’s success in generalization settings:
- Identifying all the settings and stimulus conditions in which the child should and should not engage in the target behavior:
- Identifying behaviors required by others in generalization settings so that newly acquired behavior changes will be maintained:
Example using all four steps:
A child is three years old. The parents complain that child whines, cries, screams and throws tantrums when the child wants a preferred item, such as their favorite foods (bananas, and grapes), their favorite drink (apple juice), and their favorite toys (puzzles, and books) because they are unable to ask for them. In addition, the parents say that the child has difficulty producing certain sounds and tends to drop the final sound when asked to imitate words. They would like for the child to learn to ask for things with clear articulation so that others can understand and respond to the child’s requests.
First Step: Selecting target behaviors that will contact naturally existing contingencies of reinforcement in generalization settings
The BCBA takes the first step in planning by determining if this target behavior <vocally requesting preferred items>, will produce reinforcement in the child’s everyday environments. This is crucial because behaviors that are not followed by reinforcers at least some of the time, will not maintain. To accomplish this step the BCBA has to determine:
- The kinds of reinforcers that maintain the target behavior in the identified generalization settings.
The BCBA knows that requesting preferred items is maintained by receiving the item requested. After observing the child and asking the people who know the child in their natural settings best, the BCBA determined that there are a variety of items that the child can request in each identified setting, such as grapes, cheese, raisins, juice, water, books, puzzles, and balls.
- Whether or not these function as reinforcers for the child.
The BCBA has already determined that the receipt of the previously listed requested items function as a reinforcer for the child.
- How often the target behavior produces these reinforcers in the identified generalization settings.
The BCBA determines that vocally requesting preferred items will produce the item requested most of the time in the child’s natural settings.
Second Step: Identifying all of the behaviors and/or response variations necessary for the child’s success in generalization settings
The BCBA than identifies all of the behaviors/response variations necessary for the child’s success in requesting preferred items. The BCBA begins by making a list that includes:
- Gaining another’s attention (taps shoulder, and says, “Mommy” or “Excuse Me”)
- Vocally requesting a preferred item, (“Raisins please”, “May I play with puzzle?” “I want juice”)
- Requesting a preferred item by gesturing (Pointing)
- Waiting patiently for the requested item through delays
- Asking for more (“More please”, “I want more juice please”)
- Asking for help when unable to access preferred item (item out of reach, unable to open item)
Third Step: Identifying all the settings and stimulus conditions in which the child should and should not engage in the target behavior
The BCBA than considers all of the settings and stimulus conditions in which the child should and should not request preferred items and creates lists:
- gym class
- neighbor’s house
- grandparents house
- When the child is hungry/thirsty
- When the preferred item is present and can be seen
- When the preferred item is not present and cannot be seen
- When the child sees a preferred toy and cannot reach it
- When the child sees a preferred toy in another child’s hands
- When the person the child is asking is not looking at them or does not respond to the initial request
- When the child has a preferred item but cannot access it for some reason, such as being unable to open a container, or find the “on” switch on a toy
Should NOT request conditions:
- When the child does not want or need the specific item
- When the item the child wants or needs is clearly accessible and the child does not need to ask for permission to have the preferred item
Fourth Step: Identifying behaviors required by others in generalization settings so that newly acquired behavior changes will be maintained
The BCBA than identifies the behaviors required by others in generalization settings so that the newly acquired asking behavior will be maintained. The BCBA concludes that other must:
- Be able to recognize and discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate requests for preferred items
- Provide the child with the requested item at least some of the time when the child requests appropriately
However, the BCBA is aware that individuals in the identified generalization settings are currently providing preferred items when the child whines, cries, screams and tantrums. So the BCBA determine that these others must be trained to respond appropriately to the child’s inappropriate behaviors and to the appropriate requests to increase the likelihood of appropriate behavior and decrease the likelihood of inappropriate behavior.
After completing the pre-intervention planning process the BCBA uses the information obtained to design the child’s Skill Building Lessons and Behavior Intervention Plans so that they promote maintenance and appropriate generalization of the identified behavior change targets. Although therapists will not generally be involved in this process it is important to understand the types of information the BCBA uses when planning for the maintenance and generalization of identified targets.
As therapists begin to implement the lessons and BIPs designed by the BCBA it is critical that the therapist communicates with the BCBA any changes to the information that the BCBA has already gathered. For example, changes to the child’s natural environments that introduce new stimulus conditions in which the child is required to engage in the target behavior, or new response variations that the child is required to perform. These must be communicated to the BCBA so that they may modify the child’s lessons and interventions appropriately if necessary.
This lesson has discussed the steps a BCBA takes in order to carefully and systematically plan the skill building and behavior management element of a child’s program. As discussed, by following this process the BCBA is best able to design each child’s program so that it produces behavior changes that maintain and generalize. Although therapists do not usually participate in this process it is important for therapists to understand the planning process and information that BCBAs use so that the therapist is able to inform the BCBA of changes to the child’s environment that may necessitate a change to the child’s ABA program.
Strategies to Promote Maintenance & Generalization
The last lesson discussed the initial steps a BCBA takes in the planning of a child’s program, so that the program design promotes the maintenance and appropriate generalization of identified target behaviors. This lesson will introduce several strategies and procedures known to promote maintenance and generalization of behavior change targets. The BCBA may incorporate these strategies into the design of a child’s program, which the therapist may be asked to implement when working with the child.
Four Categories of Strategies that Promote Maintenance and Generalization
There are several strategies that the BCBA may ask the therapist to implement that have been shown to promote maintenance and generalization. These strategies can be grouped into four categories (seen below)
This lesson will explain how each of the strategies within these four general categories can be implemented.
Four Strategies that Can be Used When Maximizing Contact with Reinforcement in Generalization Settings
The strategies in this category address the consequences to behavior change, this means that they primarily address maintenance of behavior change. That is, these strategies increase the likelihood that behavior changes will maintain over time. Four strategies that fall within this category are:
Fading from contrived to naturally occurring contingencies of reinforcement or punishment
Behaviors that are not followed by consequences that function as reinforcers for a child are not maintained. Therefore if the consequence that naturally follows and maintains the target behavior in the generalization setting does not currently function as a reinforcer for the child it is often necessary to use a contrived reinforcer while the child learns the target behavior. Recall that a contrived reinforcer is an item or event that functions as a reinforcer for the child but that does not naturally follow the target behavior in the generalization setting. In cases such as these the BCBA will instruct the therapist to use a contrived reinforcer while the child is learning the target behavior. In doing so the therapist may be asked to pair the naturally occurring reinforcer with a contrived reinforcer, such as social praise and receiving a glass of water when the child asks appropriately in an effort to condition the naturally occurring consequence as a reinforcer for the child. As a part of this process the BCBA will instruct the therapist to fade the contrived reinforcer while continuing to provide the naturally occurring consequence that maintains the target behavior.
If the data collected by the therapy team indicates that the natural consequence maintains the behavior once the contrived reinforcer has been eliminated than the naturally occurring consequence is now functioning as a reinforcer for the child.
A child’s manding behavior for preferred items. Because the items and events that naturally maintain the manding already function as reinforcers for the child the BCBA has instructed the therapist not to use contrived reinforcers in the instructional setting. Therefore the BCBA instructs the therapy team to use naturally occurring reinforcers in the instructional setting.
Additionally, when a target behavior is being learned it is often necessary to reinforce each occurrence of the target behavior. Recall that this is called a continuous schedule of reinforcement. Every occurrence of the target behavior produces a reinforcer. However, in natural environments it is rare for every occurrence of the behavior to produce a reinforcer. Most behaviors that a child engages in throughout the day in their every day environment are maintained by intermittent schedules of reinforcement, that is, only some of the occurrences of the behavior are followed by reinforcement. Therefore, the BCBA will often instruct the therapist to use a continuous schedule of reinforcement while the child is learning the target behavior and than fade to an intermittent schedule of reinforcement once the child has learned the target behavior across a variety of stimulus conditions.
The child’s manding behavior. The BCBA has instructed the therapists to reinforce the child’s every appropriate request while learning the target behavior, however, during the planning phase the BCBA determined that requests for preferred items produce reinforcement on average every third appropriate request in natural environments. Therefore once the child is independently requesting preferred items in a variety of ways across a variety of stimulus conditions the therapy team is instructed by the BCBA to gradually thin the reinforcement school to an intermittent schedule of reinforcement to an average of every third request.
Because this intermittent schedule of reinforcement resembles the naturally occurring schedule for the reinforcement of the behavior there is a greater likelihood that the child’s appropriate manding behavior will maintain.
Using delayed reinforcement or punishment
In generalization settings or natural environments contingencies of reinforcement or punishment are often delayed. In other words, often times they do not immediately follow the behavior that is being reinforced or punished. So once a child has achieved a desired behavior change the BCBA may instruct the therapist to purposely delay the consequence in order to mirror natural environment.
The child’s manding behavior. The BCBA determined that many mand requests in the generalization setting were not immediately followed by the preferred item. For example, in a child’s preschool class it often took the teacher up to 2 minutes to pour a glass of juice following a request for juice. Additionally, sometimes a child did not receive a requested toy until later in the day because at the time of the request other children were playing with the toy. So now that the child has independently learned to request preferred items across a variety of stimulus conditions the BCBA has instructed the therapy team to insert a short delay between the child’s request and the receipt of the preferred item. Over time as the child learns to wait patiently for the requested item the BCBA instructs the therapists to extend the wait time. Once the child has become accustomed to long delays the BCBA instructs the team to insert natural delays, such as waiting for oatmeal to cook, waiting for their sibling to finish with a book, and waiting for their mother to finish a conversation with their neighbor before receiving the requested item.
Because the child has learned to adapt to delays in the Instructional Setting the child is more likely maintain appropriate behavior learned in her requesting repertoire in the natural environment even after formal procedures have stopped.
Teaching the target behavior to levels that will contact natural contingencies of reinforcement
The third strategy is to teach target behaviors to levels that will contact natural contingencies of reinforcement. However, in some cases a child may not perform target behaviors well enough to contact natural contingencies of reinforcement in generalization settings. Or the child may contact contingencies of punishment due to their not engaging in the target behavior well enough. Examples of this could include a deficiency in rate such as a child reading words too slowly in order to contact natural contingencies of reinforcement. In fact, slow reading may cause the child to contact contingencies of punishment in the form of teasing from other children. Accuracy, such as not being able to form letters accurately enough for others to read them. Or, magnitude such as whispering answers so softly that peers cannot hear and respond or shouting so loudly that peers are afraid to approach the child. Or, Latency such as when a child’s response to a teacher’s directions is after a one minute delay.
In these situations the BCBA will modify the child’s lessons in an attempt to produce a more fluent behavior change. The BCBA will instruct the therapist to implement strategies and procedures that will cause the child to emit the behavior at a higher or lower rate with more accuracy at a higher or lower magnitude or with a shorter latency in order to rectify the situation.
These strategies may also include Fluency Based Instruction. Fluency based instruction is the combination of speed and accuracy that makes behavior effective in the natural environment. As has been discussed, Fluency Based Instruction involves teaching the child to perform skills quickly and accurately to ensure that the skill will be maintained and generalized to more complex related skills.
The child’s manding behavior. The BCBA has identified some potential fluency issues, related to requesting preferred items for the child in identified generalization settings. The BCBA has determined that the child needs to clearly enunciate the words of their request and speak loud enough so that both adults and peers in these settings can hear, understand and respond to their requests. From the BCBA’s observations with the child the BCBA understands that the child has difficulties in producing certain sounds clearly and has a tendency to drop the final sound from words each of which may make the child’s speech unintelligible to novel listeners. Therefore the BCBA instructs the therapy team to shape clearer articulation of problematic sounds by systematically prompting and reinforcing closer and closer approximations to the target sound. In addition the BCBA instructs the team to prompt the articulation of final sounds in words while only reinforcing requests in which the child articulates the final sounds of each words with the best approximation. As a result the child’s independent articulation of final sounds increases and their articulation of problematic sounds improves to a level that novel listeners in generalization settings can understand and respond to the child’s requests. In other words, novel listeners can understand what the child says well enough to give the child the items that are being requested.
Asking people in generalization setting to reinforce the target behavior and/or teach the child to ask for reinforcement
The fourth strategy is to ask people within the generalization settings to reinforce the target behavior and/or teach the child to ask for reinforcement. For a variety of reasons at times individuals in the natural environment may fail to provide reinforcement, no matter how well or how often the child engaging in the target behavior. Notice that this strategy is composed of two solutions to this problem:
- Asking individuals in generalization settings to look for and reinforce the target behavior
The child’s manding behavior. The child’s peers at school have learned to ignore the child when the child speaks because it is often unintelligible. After learning to request several items clearly and intelligibly at home the child begins to clearly and intelligibly request items at the preschool. However, because the child’s peers have learned to tune the child out they do not respond to the child’s requests. So very quickly the child stops trying to request items from peers at school. So the BCBA instructs the therapist attending school with the child to prompt peers to listen and respond to the child’s now intelligible requests for preferred items. As a result the peers at school begin to respond to the child’s requests by providing the child with the items requested. And the child continues to ask for things from their peers without further intervention.
2. Teaching the child to ask for reinforcement from individuals in the generalization settings
The child attends a general education kindergarten class, typically the child is very quiet and well-behaved in the classroom. At the beginning of the school year the child successfully completes all assigned tasks but receives very little attention or praise from their peers or their teacher. Although the teacher is very conscientious the teacher spends most of their time helping students who request help and dealing with the disruptive behaviors a few of the students during independent work time. Since the child is well behaved and quiet the teacher rarely interacts with them at this time. After the first few weeks of school the child’s independent completion of tasks declines. After observing the child in their classroom and what the other students and teacher do during this period the BCBA decides to teach the child how to ask for the teacher’s attention during independent work time. The BCBA designs a lesson to teach the child how to gain the teacher’s attention when they have completed a task or needs help. The therapists teach the child to raise their hand and wait for the teacher to come over and ask the appropriate question (such as, “did I do this right”, or “can you help me please”). Once the child learns the sequence of behavior they begin to independently request the teacher’s attention during independent work time and the teacher begins to reinforce the child’s task completion. The child now completes all signed tasks for the rest of the school year.
Making the Instructional Setting Similar to the Identified Generalization Settings
These strategies focus on Antecedent Stimuli to promote Setting/Situation Generalization. That is, the use of these strategies increase the likelihood that target behavior will generalize across relevant settings and stimulus situations. This lesson will discuss two strategies that a BCBA may ask therapists to implement in order to make the instructional setting similar to the the identified generalized setting:
- Programming Common Stimuli: You have already learned that behaviors reinforced in the presence of specific stimulus conditions are more likely to occur in the presence of novel stimulus conditions that are very similar to those used in the original training. Therefore a BCBA will design skill building lessons and behavior interventions to incorporate stimuli and conditions in the instructional setting that are common to the generalization setting. In other words, stimuli conditions that are the same or similar to those found in the generalization setting. The greater the similarity between the instructional setting and the generalization setting than the more likely the target behavior is likely to occur when the two settings are similar.
During the pre intervention planning the BCBA identified a number of generalization settings (school, home, neighbors house) for requesting items. The BCBA noted salient features of each environment including the preferred items available in each setting, the people from which the child could request those items, and the physical characteristics of each setting. The BCBA than instructed the therapy team to incorporate these features into the instructional setting at the child’s home.
2. Training Loosely: The second strategy a BCBA may ask a therapist to implement is to train loosely. A target behavior trained under a very specific and narrow set of stimulus conditions may inadvertently come under the control of a non-critical or irrelevant stimulus that is present during the instructional setting but not always present in the generalization setting. For example, a child may inadvertently learn to identify dark haired people as girls and light haired people as boys – because the pictures and people used to teach the child to identify girls were all dark haired and light haired for boys. Hair color being an irrelevant variable in gender identification. The critical variables of the antecedent stimulus for this target behavior include a variety of physical features including facial features and body shape. One way to reduce the likelihood of this type of stimulus control is to train loosely. Training loosely involves varying as many of the noncritical dimensions of the antecedent stimulus as possible during instruction. To do this, the BCBA designs the lessons so that the critical features of the antecedent stimuli are constant from one learning opportunity to the next, while the non critical stimuli features vary from one learning opportunity to another. This helps to ensure that the appropriate stimulus control is established, that is that the target behavior is under the stimulus control of only the critical aspects of the antecedent stimulus condition and not under the control of irrelevant variables.
A child’s manding behavior of requesting preferred items. Recall that during pre intervention planning the BCBA identified the critical aspects of the antecedent condition for requesting items across identified generalized settings including the child having a desire or need for the item and the item being either inaccessible or inappropriate to take without another’s permission. Initially, the BCBA instructs the therapists to teach the child to request preferred items under fairly specific and consistent stimulus conditions that always include the identified critical aspects of the antecedent. As the child begins to consistently and independently request preferred items under these conditions the BCBA instructs the therapy team to systematically vary non-critical aspects of the antecedent condition such as the location of the training, the person from which the child requests the item, the presence of a single person or multiple people in the instructional setting, the noise level of the setting, the time of day and whether the items are visible to the child or out of their sight. Each of these are non-critical or irrelevant aspects of the antecedent condition. Varying these aspects of the antecedent stimulus condition decreases the likelihood that irrelevant or non-critical aspects of the antecedent will gain control over the target behavior and increases the likelihood that the generalization settings will have at least some of the stimuli present during the instructional setting, thus increasing the likelihood that the target behavior will generalize from the instructional setting to the identified generalization setting.
Two Strategies that can be used when Teaching Sufficient Examples
The strategies involve teaching the child to respond in the presence of several different stimulus conditions and to engage in a variety of appropriate responses, before assessing the child’s ability to respond in the presence of novel stimuli and to engage in novel response forms. Because the strategies address both antecedent conditions in responses they promote both setting/situation and response generalization.
The two strategies in this category include:
- Teaching enough stimulus examples: Representative sample of identified stimulus conditions or several different stimulus conditions. In most cases it is not practical or even possible to teach the child to engage in the target behavior in the presence of every possible setting and stimulus situation. Teaching enough stimulus examples involves teaching the child to engage in the behavior in the presence of several examples of stimulus conditions or in other words in stimulus conditions that represent the large range of possible setting/stimulus situations in identified generalization settings and then assessing for generalization to untrained stimulus examples. The greater the number of relevant stimulus conditions used in the instructional setting the more likely the child will be to respond correctly to untrained stimulus conditions in the generalized setting.
A child’s manding for preferred items. Recall that during pre intervention planning the BCBA identified a number of settings and stimulus conditions in which the child would need to request preferred items:
Child is hungry/thirsty
Child sees a preferred toy in another child’s hands
A desired item is out of reach
Item can be seen
Item cannot be seen
When designing this lesson the BCBA instructs the therapy team to systematically teach the child to request a few food or drink items when the child is hungry or thirsty, and then assess for generalization to untrained items. So after teaching the child to request juice, water, raisins and grapes the requesting behavior expands to several untrained items bananas, cheerios, water, and apples. The therapy team repeats this with a few examples of preferred toys and activities with the same results. Then the BCBA instructs the team to teach the child a few conditions with the preferred item visible but out of reach, after teaching several items the therapy team probes for generalization to untrained stimulus examples and the child independently requests the items without additional training, demonstrating generalization of setting/situation. Finally, the BCBA instructs the therapy team to teach the child to request items that are out of sight, such as food in a fridge, dvd in a cabinet, toy in a cupboard. After the therapists teach the child several unseen item requests they assess for generalization and the child begins to request novel items without additional training once again demonstrating generalization of setting/situation. This process is continued across several stimulus conditions until the child is independently requesting preferred items across all identified settings and stimulus conditions.
It is also important to teach the child conditions that signal responding is inappropriate. In other words, to teach the child when not to engage in the target behavior of requesting a preferred item. Recall that the BCBA determined that it would be inappropriate for the child to request an item that was needed or wanted and was accessible without requiring permission. In other words if a child’s favorite toy, puzzle or book was on the floor the child shouldn’t ask to play with it, they should just go play with it.
The BCBA instructs the therapy team to incorporate “don’t” examples with “do” examples into the child’s manding behavior of asking for preferred items lessons to help the child learn to discriminate when to ask for an item and when they do not need to ask for an item.
2. Teaching enough response examples: Representative sample of appropriate responses or a variety of appropriate responses. Teaching enough response examples involves providing the child with opportunities to practice several response variations and then assessing for generalization to untrained response forms. In other words, the BCBA designs the lessons and interventions to include multiple, appropriate responses from the child. Once the child is successful with trained response variations the BCBA instructs the therapists to probe for generalizations to untrained appropriate responses, that is to see if the child is able to engage in untrained appropriate responses.
A child’s manding for preferred items. Recall the BCBA identified a number of behaviors necessary for the child to request preferred items successfully:
Gaining another’s attention
Vocally requesting a preferred item
Requesting a preferred item by gesturing
Waiting patiently for the requested items through delays
Beginning with just one of the identified behaviors “gaining another’s attention” the BCBA identified a number of variations of the target behavior that the child may need to be successful: saying the person’s name, saying “excuse me”, tapping the person’s shoulder, touching the person’s arm, elbow, or hand. So the BCBA designs a lesson for gaining another’s attention and instructs the therapy team to begin by teaching the child to tap the therapist’s shoulder, which the child master’s fairly quickly. Next, the BCBA instructs the therapists to sometimes prompt the child to touch their elbow to gain their attention, prior to requesting a preferred item. After the child has learned to independently engage in these two attention gaining responses the BCBA instructs the team to assess for response generalization. During generalization probes the child engages in the two behaviors that were reinforced during training and without additional training touches the therapists hand to gain attention.
The training of multiple responses in the instructional setting increase the likelihood that the child would engage in untrained response forms that achieve the same outcome. It is important to note that any inappropriate or problematic responses that emerge from a child in this process should be responded to appropriately. Remember, an inappropriate or problematic response is treated as an error and therapists should implement the “No, Prompt, Fade” error correction procedure if this occurs.
The child’s attention gaining behavior. The child has learned to gain attention through verbal request and the physical gestures of tapping the shoulder, touching the elbow and touching the hand. One day the child pinches the therapists arm to gain attention–a problematic and inappropriate response generalization to the getting someone’s attention lesson . The therapist implements a “No, Prompt, Fade” error correction procedure, by providing the child an informational “no”, contriving an EO (turning their back to the child) and then prompting the child to touch their arm gently to get their attention. The therapist than fades the prompt over several successive trials until the child is independently touching the therapists arm gently to gain their attention.
Three Strategies that can be used when Training to Generalize
This lesson will discuss three strategies that fall within this category. If generalization is treated as a behavior than it can be reinforced and prompted. These three strategies promote setting/situation and response generalization
- Reinforcing occurrences of desired Setting/Situation generalization: This first strategy provides a simple way to promote setting/situation generalization by simply reinforcing the target behavior when it occurs outside of the instructional setting in the presence of relevant setting and stimulus situations, and in this way setting/situation generalization is promoted.
- Reinforcing desired response variability: Another simple way to promote response generalization is to reinforce desired response variation or appropriate novel responses when they occur outside of the instructional setting. The BCBA will almost always instruct therapists to strongly reinforce all occurrences of desired setting/situation and response generalization.
A child’s requesting behavior for preferred items. The BCBA instructs the therapy team to reinforce all novel and appropriate forms of requesting behavior and to reinforce all occurrences of requesting behavior in the presence of novel and relevant people, environments, and stimulus conditions. Moreover, the BCBA directs the therapists to reinforce with social praise and the desired item being requested. The therapy team has taught the child to request items by saying the name of the item, so when one of the therapists working with the child responds to the child’s request for “juice” by going to the fridge to get the box of juice, the child stops the therapist and then points to their juice cup sitting on the kitchen counter top. The therapist reinforces this novel response form by providing social praise and giving the child the juice cup.
Later in the week another therapist is working with the child when the child requests to see their dog “Molly”. The dog is downstairs and out of sight. The child has never been taught to request an item that is out of sight. The therapist reinforces this novel request in the presence of this stimulus condition by immediately providing verbal praise and then takes the child to go see the dog.
3. Telling the child to generalize: Perhaps the easiest strategy for promoting generalization is to tell the child to generalize. For example the BCBA may instruct the therapist to tell the child other settings where a particular skill can be used.
A child has learned several ways to start a conversation with adults and peers in several different contexts: eating at a restaurant or home, playing a game at home, and while riding bikes in their neighborhood. The therapists tell the child that they can use these same conversation starter skills to initiate conversations at school while eating at snack time or lunch, and while playing playground games with peers. They tell the child that the more they talk to their classmates at school the more likely it will be that they will ask the child to play with them at recess, something the child really enjoys but has not experienced very often at school up to this point. As a result the child uses several of the conversation starters they have learned during lunch and successfully engaged with classmates. Following these successful conversational exchanges two of the classmates ask the child to play at recess. In this example, the child followed instructions to generalize conversation starters from contexts at home with peers and adults to contexts at school with peers. By doing so the child experiences natural contingencies of reinforcement including successful conversational exchanges with classmates leading to an invitation to join them in a kickball game at recess. A strong reinforcer for the child. This makes it more likely that the child will follow generalization instructions in the future.
The BCBA will likely use many of these strategies when designing skill building lessons and behavior intervention plans to increase the likelihood that identified behavior changes will maintain and generalize. The appropriate use of these strategies is determined by the BCBA and it is important that therapists implement these strategies as instructed by the BCBA to ensure appropriate maintenance and generalization of behavior change targets.
Promoting Maintenance & Generalization: Withdrawing Formal Interventions
In previous lessons you learned about the planning steps taken and the strategies implemented by the BCBA to promote maintenance and generalization when designing a child’s skill building lessons or behavior intervention plans. In addition to the initial planning process and program design the BCBA spends a significant amount of time and effort designing program changes that result in the systematic withdrawal of programmed procedures and interventions to facilitate maintenance and generalization of acquired skills and reductions in problem behavior. This lesson will discuss the final phase of promoting maintenance and generalization by withdrawing interventions from a child’s program.
In most cases the programs and procedures required to produce identified behavior change targets cannot and should not continue indefinitely. Ideally, all components of a successful behavior change intervention are systematically withdrawn over time in a way that promotes maintenance and generalization of the target in all identified generalization settings and situations. The BCBA will instruct therapists to systematically fade components of the designed intervention or lesson so that there is a gradual shift from contrived conditions to the normal everyday conditions of the child’s natural environments. This systematic withdrawal of programmed interventions and procedures is accomplished by fading or removing contrived:
- Antecedent Stimuli (such as prompts or moderations to natural environment)
- Response Requirements (such as modifications to task materials or response criteria for reinforcement)
- Consequences (such as reinforcers and schedules of reinforcement)
Generally, response requirements are the first component of an intervention plan to be shifted from contrived requirements to those that occur normally in the child’s natural environments. Followed by fading or withdrawal of contrived antecedent stimuli and conditions and then contrived contingencies of reinforcement or punishment otherwise known as consequences. However, in practice there may be significant overlap in the withdrawal of each of these components of the intervention.
A child’s manding for preferred items. Recall, before intervention was initiated with the child the child rarely used words to request desired items and instead engaged in whining, crying, screaming and tantrum behavior to get the things they wanted. In addition the child had significant speech difficulties in producing certain sounds and completing word sounds making their speech difficult if not impossible to understand. The BCBA had instructed the therapy team to begin teaching the child to request preferred items though contrived situations, meaning that the therapist would create a situation in which the child would be taught to respond with the appropriate request, in addition to prompting the child with echoic prompts to encourage the child to use words and then providing reinforcement for any approximation of that sound on a continuous schedule of reinforcement. As you can see contrived Antecedent conditions, Response requirements, and Consequences were used in the initial training environment.
Over time as the child’s articulation improved the BCBA instructed the therapy team to only provide continuous reinforcement for clear articulation. No longer would approximations of sound be reinforced bringing the child closer to what occurs in the natural environment. Later the BCBA instructs the team to teach the child to use full sentence requests using full echoic prompts while continuing to provide praise and the item on a schedule of continuous reinforcement. Again, shifting requirements so that they closer align to the natural environment. Once the child is independently requesting a variety of preferred items with a clearly enunciated full sentence request, the BCBA instructs the team to teach the child to use polite markers using full echoic prompts once again, but in natural situations where the child wants or needs an item. At this point the BCBA has once again increased the response requirement so that it more closely resembles the natural environments and furthermore has instructed the team to gradually remove all contrived situations and only take advantage of naturally occurring situations in which the child wants or needs and item in addition to instructing the therapist to fade the verbal praise (a contrived reinforcer). Following this, the BCBA instructs the therapists to fade the prompt for polite markers, and continue to reinforce full sentence requests containing the word please by providing the item requested on a continuous schedule of reinforcement.
At this point antecedent conditions and response requirements are the same as those in the child’s natural environment. Finally, the BCBA instructs the therapy team to gradually thin the schedule of reinforcement so that the child is only receiving the item requested following some but not all appropriate full sentence requests containing the word please. The naturally existing schedule of intermittent reinforcement. As a result the child can now request preferred items using full sentences with the word please in naturally occurring situations in which the child needs or wants an item without prompts or contrived reinforcement contingencies.
In some cases it may not always be possible to withdraw all components of an intervention that were used to produce a socially significant behavior change. As components of an intervention are withdrawn the child may fail to maintain the skill developed or fail to maintain reductions in a particular problem behavior. In these cases, the BCBA will work with individuals in the child’s natural environment to develop a plan to embed parts of the intervention seamlessly and indefinitely in the child’s natural environment.
Frequent data collection continues while contrived interventions are being withdrawn. Once most or all of the procedures and interventions used to produce the behavior change have been withdrawn and the skill and/or behavior reduction is maintaining the BCBA will likely instruct the therapy team to reduce the frequency of data collection, that is to conduct maintenance probes.
When conducting maintenance probes the therapist will continue to collect data intermittently on the skill or problem behavior to ensure that the skill or problem behavior reduction is maintaining after the program interventions have been withdrawn. At this point the BCBA will probably instruct the therapists to transfer the particular Skill or Behavior Intervention Plan to the child’s maintenance log book with the accompanying data sheets. The maintenance log book is where the child’s BIP and Data Sheets for problem behaviors that have been decreased to age appropriate levels as well as Skill Building Lessons and Data Sheets for mastered skills are stored while therapists are conducting maintenance probes.
This lesson has introduced you to the importance of systematically withdrawing program procedures and interventions to increase the likelihood of maintenance and generalization of behavior change targets. Over the course of treatment the BCBA will instruct therapists on how to systematically fade and withdraw all components of the programmed intervention in a way that increases the likelihood that the behavior changes will maintain and generalize. It is very important that therapists follow the BCBAs instructions when implementing withdrawal procedures so that the child has the best opportunity for success.