Generalization and Maintenance in Applied Behavior Analysis

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What is generalization and maintenance in Applied Behavior Analysis?

Generalization and maintenance are essential to providing quality treatment as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) or a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). You could argue that if you are not teaching for generalization then you are not providing quality ABA service. Generalization occurs when a trained or taught skill occurs outside of the training or teaching environment. Maintenance occurs when a skill continues to exist even when teaching stops. If you’d like to learn about response generalization and stimulus generalization be sure and check out or blog: Response and Stimulus Generalization

Generalization and Why It Is Important

Whenever we teach skills in applied behavior analysis, we typically teach them in controlled environments. BCBAs will design the skill acquisition plans and RBTs will implement the plans while providing reinforcement. For example, if we want to teach a client to recite their address, date of birth, or other personal information, we might conduct several trials of DTT until they are able to respond to SDs appropriately. Once the skills is taught, however, we must now generalize that skill to other settings, other people, and other points in time. It doesn’t do us, or the client, any good if they are only able to perform the skill for us or in certain environments. A different example might be playing an instrument. If you are able to play like Beethoven in the comfort of your own home, but then you freeze up during a recital, you have failed to generalize that skill.

There are several ways to promote generalization including:
– Train loosely
– Indiscriminable contingencies
– Multiple Exemplars
– Program common stimuli
– Natural contingencies
– General case study

All these strategies promote effective generalization. It is important as an RBT to avoid becoming to structured or rigid in your teaching. Remember, if we aren’t generalizing we aren’t providing good service.

Maintenance and Why It Is Important

Maintenance in applied behavior analysis is a type of generalization. ABA is often used to treat individuals on the autism spectrum who are diagnosed with ASD. A common trait of children with autism is regression of previously learned skills. This means that a skill that was once known will start to fade when teaching stops. The idea of maintenance is to promote the continued ability to engage in a skill even when training or teaching is no longer occurring. For example, you may have learned calculus in college, but if you were asked to do a calculus problem now you might struggle. That skills has not maintained through the lack of teaching. Maintenance is just as important as generalization. It is typical that we observe a lack of maintenance if there is a large gap in services.

There are several ways to promote maintenance:
– Fade prompts appropriately and rapidly
– Fade reinforcement schedules as the behavior strengthens
– Remove contrived consequences and introduce natural consequences

It can be frustrating as an RBT when a skill you previously taught no longer exists. Running maintenance targets and ensuring that skills are not regressing is part of being an effective behavior technician.

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