What does Generalisation mean?
Generalisation refers to the ability to be able to transfer skills and knowledge learned to other settings, people and activities.
In neuro-typical childhood development, when a child is taught a skill in one setting and from one person (e.g. mum teaches Ben to say “thank you” at home), the child will then transfer that skill to other people and other environments (e.g. Ben will say “thank you” to his teacher at school).
Individuals with ASD often have difficulties with generalisation. This means that they may have learnt a skill in one environment where it was taught (e.g. reading at school), however cannot complete the activity in a different environment (e.g. reading at home).
Similarly, the skill may only be executed in front of the person who taught it and not in front of someone else. Focusing on specific details, students with ASD frequently miss the central principles and their applications.
Often we work with children who may have some functional swim stroke in the pool where they were taught, but they cannot generalise these skills to other bodies of water (such as the beach or a river or lake).
According to the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2016, the locations for drowning are as follows:
The columns in blue represent 10 year average and those in orange represent the statistics pertaining to 2015/2016. You will note that the ten year average is highest for river/creek/stream with the 2015/2016 statistics the highest for beach.
"The number of people drowning in rivers, creeks and streams has decreased, with 58 deaths (21%) recorded this year. This is a decrease of 19 deaths (or 25%) on the 10 year average. Beaches were the location with the highest number of drowning deaths in 2015/16 with 63 deaths (23%). This is an increase of 16 deaths (or 34%) on the 10 year average. Ocean / harbour locations and swimming pools both recorded increases against the 10 year average, with 53 (19%) people drowning in an ocean or harbour and 45 (16%) drowning in swimming pools in 2015/16 (Figure 9)."
What can you do?
- Remember that being able to undertake a task or skill in one environment, does not make the skill “mastered”. Knowing this, and assisting to facilitate Generalisation for an individual is a great start. Plan for Generalisation right from the beginning of any new skill acquisition. Keep in mind that by actively incorporating elements that promote generalisation, the skill mastery may take longer. Remain patient throughout this process.
- It is imperative that individuals with ASD are taught the same skill across different settings, times and people to help with the skill transference:
If your child is already enrolled in Autism Swim lessons, look to create opportunities and engage them in other ‘water-based’ activities such as surf life saving and water activities in a lake
You can assist your swimmer to practice certain skill sets (such as holding breath and blowing bubbles) in the bath or other water environments that they may frequent
Slowly introduce another Autism Swim teacher to your child’s structured lessons. This will not only be helpful in having a back-up if your usual teacher is absent, it will also begin facilitating the generalisation process.
Introduce this to your swimmer in a way that will cause the least anxiety, including always communicating to him/her visually the teacher for upcoming lesson
Ask other people to assist you with the generalisation and explain to them the ‘why’ (e.g. a family friend can jump in the pool and do some swimming practice and water games with your swimmer)
Teach swimming at various times of the day. Stick with your child’s routine initially so as to minimise distress, and then slowly look to amend or add to the current regime
“Train loosely”. There is a tendency to maintain the ‘same’ when teaching a new skill to individuals with ASD.
In fact, we need to train a wide range of responses and ensure there is ample opportunity to practice these options (e.g. you may teach your swimmer two different ways to float)
- Familiarise your swimmer with different bodies of water and the differences between them. Present this information as visually as possible to assist with information retention (for example, you may have a social story about lakes; what can be found at lakes, what are the dangers, how lakes differ from pools [that there may not be an ‘edge’ to hold onto like there is in a pool])