The ability to apply knowledge and information gained in completing some task to other tasks and situations.
Humans generalize routinely. For example, knowing that one should always drive on the right on the road is a generalization from one's experience and observation in specific driving situations.
Think back to the days when you learned the alphabet. Now think of how easily you were able to learn that A is A, no matter what color it is, how tall it is, what kind of paper it is on, if it was on the refrridgerator or in a book, or who might be asking you about it. And notice how you did not forget that A is A once you mastered the skill. This is generalization.
** IMPLICATIONS FOR LEARNING **
A child with autism has difficulty generalizing what he learns in one setting to another setting. If he is taught to cross the street in front of the house, he needs to be taught how to cross the street in front of his school, church, playground, etc. He might not be able to display a skill he learned with a teacher to another teacher. He might know a math problem in one room and not be able to do the same math problem in another room. This is often baffling to the teacher who blames it on an issue with retention. He knew it 10 minutes ago, now he has forgot it already!
People with autism often learn skills or behaviors in one situation but have great difficulty generalizing these to a different situation. For example, they might learn to brush their teeth with a green toothbrush, then balk at brushing their teeth with a blue toothbrush. They might learn to wash plates but not realize that the same basic procedure is used to wash glasses. They might learn the literal wording of a rule but not understand its underlying purpose, and so have trouble applying it in different situations.
Individuals with ASD frequently cannot functionally use what they have learned in a structured teaching situation and be able to apply it to other similar settings or with different materials and people. Often times children with ASD will need specific planning for maintenance of a skill and programming that can naturally embed learned skills into functional activities so that the skill is constantly and systematically reinforced over time.
Appropriate generalization requires an understanding of the central principles in learned sequences and the subtle ways in which they are applicable to other situations. Focusing on specific details, students with autism frequently miss these central principles and their applications. Students with ASD often cannot remember the precise order of tasks because they focus concretely on specific details and do not always see relationships between them. Because sequences involve these relationships, they are often disregarded.
Techniques for systematically generalizing skills across multiple environments are crucial. This supports efforts to involve parents and to assure teamwork between regular educators, special educators, administrators, and support services staff. Unless a specific focus on generalization of skills is included in the intervention program, it is possible for children with autism spectrum disorders to learn skills in a highly context-dependent way?(NRC, 2001, p.113). Systematic transition planning between classes (daily) and between programs (year to year) is also important.
** STRATEGIES **
A child with ASD needs to be taught the same skill across settings and people to ensure that he applies it everywhere he goes. Generalization should be part of every lesson plan.
Communication approaches should emphasize engaging activities with multiple opportunities for mixed receptive and expressive opportunities.
There should be an emphasis on success by mixing opportunities for demonstrating already acquired communication skills with procedures to teach new skills.
Use naturally reinforcing and occurring materials - Seek to change behaviors that receive reinforcement in the student's natural environment.
For example - learning colors because the child has a favorite color of Popsicle, M&Ms, and ice cream flavor is likely to be more maintained and generalized than learning colors by sorting colored blocks into color bowls.
Add variety to skills being taught, including using a variety of materials in a variety of ways and in a variety of situations.
Provide many examples of the target response:
When teaching car, you would consider pictures of cars, different cars, toy cars, riding in family's cars, labeling cars on the street, etc.
When teaching social skills like saying hi, saying hi to people where you know a name for them, saying hi to people when you don?t have a name for them, pretending to say hi to stuffed animals, pretending to say hi to pictures of friends, having dolls say hi to each other, etc.
Generalization should not only be planned for in the teaching situation, but measurement of generalization is critical so plans should be made up front for how to assess it.This can be done by taking a skill that was taught and try it with new materials.If the skill has not generalized, the skill cannot be considered truly mastered!