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Generalization is a very important concept in the field of ABA. Technically defined, generalization is a learner emitting a target behavior in a setting or stimulus situation that differs from the instructional setting (Cooper et al., 2020). Put simply, generalization is the ability for an individual to perform a skill under different conditions or to apply a learned skill in a different way.
In the ABA field, behavior analysts work to promote generalization in their programs for clients. What this means is that clinicians have a goal for each of their clients that involves the client taking the skills they learn in a clinical setting and applying it to the “real world”. Such applications look different for each client. For example, one individual may have a goal of compromising to generalize with their siblings at home and another may be learning to identify money amounts to eventually buy items at a store. Each client’s clinical team actively works to promote generalization by running programs with different people, settings, and with different questions. This is known as generalization across settings, people, and behaviors.
Generalization is important because it allows our clients to thrive outside of a clinical setting. Imagine if you only learned how to drive by playing Mario Kart and did not learn to drive any other way? Would you be able to effectively and safely drive on the real road? Probably not. This is why generalization is a goal for every client, no matter the skills they are learning.