Generalization of skills
We have seen and heard it many times: my child produces the best snake sound in the therapy room but the moment they step out that door, that snake sound is gone! Whether your child is working on speech sounds, language development, or even social skills, generalization is important.
Generalization is the ability to use the skills learned and apply it across multiple contexts such as in a different environment and across multiple communication partners. Think about when your speech therapist teaches your child to sign “all done.” We want them to sign “all done” not just with food but also within play or whenever they finish an activity such as bath time. Generalization of this skill tells us that your child understands what it means to be “all done.” Another example is when a child practices their speech sounds. We practice within structured therapy tasks and work our way towards conversation. Using speech sounds within conversation is the ultimate goal because that tells us that the child is using these new skills all the time.
The first step within generalization is practice, practice, practice! There’s a reason why we repeat the same words over and over and practice the same skill multiple times! Learning a new skill is hard and it takes time and just like adults, we practice our skills across multiple environments in order to solidify these skills. Children are the same! While adults seek out opportunities to generalize skills, we need to give kids multiple opportunities so that they can practice their skills. Because generalization is the hardest process, we want to start generalizing these skills from the very beginning.
Here are some ideas on what you can do at home.
Your child learned to request “more” within food. Now, change the activity and see if they can request “more” within toys by giving them 1 piece at a time. Now see if they can request “more” with another communication partner.
If your child is working on following directions, start at home with minimal distractions. After that, move on to adding some music in the background, then try it at a park/grocery store. Now see if they can follow directions with another communication partner.
Within speech sounds, practice within a structured setting like saying our sounds right before we brush our teeth. Try reading a book together or playing a game and listen in on those sounds. Now see if they can continue their speech sounds with another communication partner.
Generalization of skills is the ultimate goal within speech therapy! Ask your therapist for some additional ideas on how to promote these new learned skills.
-Helen Deduonni M.S., CCC-SLP