Friday, July 15, 2016

Promoting Generalization in Children with Autism
How often have you provided therapy to a child with autism, and after the therapy session, the child has difficulty generalizing skills that seem to be mastered?  This is not uncommon.  Children with autism often have challenges performing a newly learned skill across a variety of settings with different people.  This is called generalization.  For example, a child may master lacing on a practice shoe during therapy, but at home, he is unable to lace his own shoes, or he can write his name in a therapy session, but not in the classroom.  It’s important to note that a controlled therapy session is not reality, and generalization is critical for increased function in real life!

Here are some teaching tips for promoting generalization in children with autism.
  • Teach the concept or skill using a variety of approaches and materials.  For example, when a child is learning about cows, show him a photograph of a cow, a drawing of a cow, and a video of a cow.  It’s also important to vary the instructions.  For example, ask questions in different ways such as, “What’s your name?” and “Who are you?”
  •  Teach the concept or skill across a number of different settings, such as at home, at school and in the community.  If your child is able to count money at school, that’s great, but can she count her money at the grocery store?
  •  Teach the concept or skill with different people.  Have different individuals work with the child on the skill, such as a family friend, sibling, or grandparent.
  •  Provide reinforcement when the child successfully generalizes a skill, then gradually decrease the frequency of the rewards.
  • Use a variety prompts and fade the prompts as soon as possible. The various ways to prompt include physical, visual, verbal.  In order to increase independence, the sooner that you are able to eliminate the prompts, the better.
Most importantly, keep in mine that every encounter and experience is an opportunity for the child to learn and generalize!  More learning experiences lead to increased success and independence.


  1. This is on my radar every day! In many school systems, the classroom is designed to embrace these kid's ability to memorize and adopt rituals. While these can be helpful tools, addressing core skills that are necessary for generalization is both difficult and not often part of the curriculum. As a result, these kids grow dependent on the adaptive environment. I am working on putting together specific continuing education for occupational therapists to address this specific issue. Thank you for sharing!

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