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Discrimination Training


What is Discrimination Training and Why Do We Teach It?

In ABA, we often refer to different operants of language – the mand, the tact, the intraverbal, etc. When discussing receptive language, we are referring to the student’s ability to take in and understand language. Can the student follow basic instructions? Does the student know that the word “cup” is referring to the circular object that we use to drink out of? These are basic building blocks of language development. Discrimination training is an important part of that development. Often, students can “guess” what response is expected of them without actually attending to the object or instruction. For example, if the student has received reinforcement for giving an item with the SD of “Give me…”, the student will likely learn to give an item. But what about when the student has to discriminate between what is said in order to choose the correct item?

Within ABA we have what is called the SD, (Discriminative Stimulus) which means that it is correct and reinforcement would be provided. We also have the S delta (Stimulus Delta) which means that reinforcement is not provided. But can the student discriminate between what the SD is and what the S delta is? If the instruction is “Give me the spoon?”, can the student choose the spoon (SD) and not the sock (S delta) when both are presented? If not, then discrimination training would be an important step before getting knee-deep into teaching receptive labels.

Why Do We Teach It?

Discrimination training is what we would call a “generalized skill“. A skill like receptive labels is more of a cumulative skill – we would keep teaching different targets until we’ve determined that the student has collected enough mastered targets. However, with a generalized skill, we’re looking to teach a skill that, once it is learned, can be applied to different targets and environments. When a student can learn to discriminate, it can be applied to discriminating receptive labels, verbal instructions, objects, pictures, etc.

So let’s expand on this, my daughter tells me that she wants to go outside and play. In order to go outside to play, she must put her shoes on. I provide the verbal prompt of, ” Josie go get your shoes”, but she brings me back a cup, she can’t wear her cup on her feet so she does not get that instant reinforcement of going outside. If she were to bring me the shoes, we would put them on and go outside, which is then reinforcement.

When Do We Teach It?

Discrimination training is a beginner program, and there must be instructional control, meaning you must have a paired relationship. As Josie’s mom she knows that I provide her with lots of reinforcement: hugs tickles, snacks, playtime. Skills that we need are:

Joint attention meaning we have an interest in the same object

Follows a point– if I point to something will Josie look at it?

Come here, sit down, etc. – Follows basic 1-step instructions

How Do We Teach It?

I like to start out with just one item. Often people start out with something that is very meaningful to the student which is different for each client. I have found that some clients will only pick up the item they really want, so I prefer to stick with neutral items. We also use real items and not flashcards as kids don’t always have a picture to object correspondence. Then hold your hand out and say, “Give me [item]” or just the item name, because having a lot of filler words can cause even more confusion.

The steps look like this: for this example, we are teaching ball.

1 item out “give me ball”

2 items out- I like to stay away from the same category or items that can be confusing, so let’s use a ball and a shoe.

3 items out – ball, plus 2 non-preferred item

3 items out – ball and 2 other untrained items

After you complete this and they have mastered this between 80 – 100% mastery it is time to move on to teaching a new item.

Want a free guide on discrimination training? Be sure to click below.

3 thoughts on “Discrimination Training”

  1. Hi,
    Thank you for the nice quick blogpost as well as the video on discrimination training. I appreciate it as a basic way to explain to both my paraprofessionals as well as my students parents what discrimination training is and why we do it. I would love to hear what you have done when adding two mastered items together just doesn’t seem to work. I know that might be a long path to go down, but I feel like I have tried everything under the sun for one of my students that I have currently and although he can master many targets in a field of 3 when two items have never been targeted before, the minute I mix in two targeted items with one neutral he bombs. (not very technical language).

    1. Hi Julia! The way we would teach it is once a student has 2 receptive items mastered with neutral distractors each, we would do a random rotation step with the 2 mastered targets. It would be broken down like this:
      a. Array of 3 – both target items + 1 distractor – Ask for Target 1
      b. Array of 3 – both target items + 1 distractor – Ask for Target 2
      c. Array of 3 – both target items + 1 distractor – Rotate between asking for Target 1 and Target 2
      Then, teach a 3rd target separately. When that’s mastered, introduce a random rotation step with targets 1, 2, and 3

  2. Pingback: Following 1-Step Instructions - How to ABA

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