Friday, August 10, 2007

Real Autism Advice from Alan Harchik - Generalization

Alan Harchik, Ph.D., Chief Operating Officer of the May Institute, offers sound advice on how to accomplish one of the most frustrating goals in educating your autistic child - encourage generalization of skills once they are acquired by an autistic child. Harchik presents five practices found to be effective by researchers and practitioners:

Modify rewards: Once the child has mastered the skill, we can try to modify the rewards to make them similar to those that may be found in other settings.

For example, after a child learns to participate in a simple conversation, we might begin using rewards after every five or six responses instead of after every response. Similarly, certain toys or food items used as rewards to initially establish the skill might not be available at home or in the community, but other rewards could be identified. We can bring these items into the teaching sessions.

Finally, structured opportunities to practice the skills with typical peers can be helpful in promoting generalization.

Use lots of examples: Most skills we teach should require the child to learn to respond to many variations of those skills.

For example, if we are teaching imitation, we will teach the child to imitate 20 or 30 different movements. If we are teaching a child to identify something, such as clothing, animals or colors, we will work with the child until he or she can correctly identify many examples.

For some children, generalization occurs after as few as four or five examples. For other children, it may take dozens of examples.

Present common features: The materials used while teaching should incorporate all of the relevant features and characteristics of the materials to be found in other situations.

For example, if we are teaching a child to put on a shirt, we should ensure that we use shirts that have long and short sleeves, are pull-over and button-down, have different types of material, etc. If teaching how to prepare a microwave meal, we should use microwave ovens of different sizes and with different dials and buttons, as well as meals that involve a variety of times, sizes and foods.

Teach loosely: Although teaching sessions often begin with very structured and set procedures to help the child acquire the skill, over time the sessions should be conducted more "loosely." This means that specific instructions may vary in wording, the exact style of prompting may not be as rigid and the pace of the session may fluctuate.

Further, the child should work with a number of different instructors throughout the day and week. This prepares the student to be less "locked in" to specific wording and interactions from the instructor.

Use intermediaries: Some skills for some children can be transferred by a "carrier" or "intermediary." For example, if a child has learned to follow a picture schedule, that same (or similar) picture schedule can be used in the generalization setting.

We teach children with good memorization skills to memorize and verbally state a sequence of steps at school, such as for washing hands (turn on water, wet hands, press soap dispenser, rub hands together, etc.), and then have them repeat the steps out loud at home while engaging in the skill or task.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Generalization is very important. I like to try to teach things from the start in the most natural environment. The one thing is to never assume the child can generalize a skill.

Good points. Thanks for sharing.