When a child has Autism they often have difficulty generalizing behaviors. This means they can act a certain way in a certain situation, but not in others. This could mean that if a routine is not followed the child cannot demonstrate a specific skill, which is not helpful in real-life situations that are often random.
Most children with Autism cannot learn a skill and automatically generalize; this is normal and should not concern you right away. That is why new skills in Applied Behavioral Analyses therapy are taught in many situations, with varied tones of voice, and multiple materials, as well as multiple correct responses. This is called adding ‘discrimination’ components and why ABA therapy is so great for Autistic children.
The wrong way to teach with ABA is to give a child a specific thing they must say whenever something is asked. For example, when somebody asks ‘did you have fun’, the child always responds with, ‘yes thank you’. This is not generalizing and causes issues. What if the child didn’t have fun, and the adult doesn’t know they were taught a specific way to respond? This is why it is so important as a parent and therapy team to carry out skills across different platforms. If your child is taught to say goodbye to their therapist, then this should be encouraged in other scenarios, like when a family member leaves for work.
When a new skill will be taught to your child, ask about generalization. As a therapist, any goal that is taught to the child will first be thought about in ‘the bigger picture’. For example, if a child needs to sit still during lessons, where else will this need to be applied? How can we transition it to other scenarios? This should always be looked at first before the lesson begins, so the therapist knows how to expand on the lesson to give your child the best success. And this is something you can help your therapist with, to ultimately help your child.
ABA is not meant to teach robotic responses to situations, it is not meant to teach your child how to act appropriately only within limited situations. It is meant to help a child blend in with their peers, achieve the goals their classmates will and have a happier healthier life as an adult.