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Consistency and Generalization

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Consistency between environments is incredibly important for students with autism, or really any student with special needs. As teachers, interventionists, one-on-one therapists, and SEITs we need our students to have consistency if we want to see generalization of what we teach and true measurable progress in our students with autism. Consistency is vital when you’re part of a home program, and today we are going to cover what it is, why it matters, and how to achieve it. 

Have you ever worked hard to teach a student a skill only to realize that no one else can get your student to do it?

What about difficult behaviors? Have you ever responded to a behavior and almost eliminated it, only to have it reemerge because it wasn’t eliminated in all environments?

If any of those stories sound familiar to you, then your students with autism need more consistency in their home program or therapeutic settings.

I once had a student who was a biter. Of course, this was a behavior that had to be discouraged, pronto, due to safety reasons. 

I took steps to make sure we both stayed safe and bought pads for my arms, which were frequent targets of their teeth. 

Then I adjusted how I responded to the biting. I gave no reaction, not even saying ouch when they’d take a chomp out of me. 

I’d take note of what we were doing before they bite me. I noticed that whenever they bit me, they were struggling or getting stressed.

I worked on giving them alternatives to biting and making sure to break down tasks into more reasonable chunks, giving them more support. And just like that, they stopped biting me. (Well not just like that, it took a while to find the right balance).

Problem solved!

Except not really. 

Unbeknownst to me, they started biting other people, parents, teachers, speech therapists, and babysitters. The head of the case called a meeting. 

Then the strangest thing happened, she told me, since the student wasn’t biting me, I did not need to attend the meeting. 

Yeah, I was probably the most important provider to have at that meeting, because our student had been biting me, then I took steps to fix the problem, and it worked. 

Instead of coming up with a new system, it would have made more sense to use the system I designed with them consistently across environments. 

This is just one example of where a student needed consistency from their special education team and didn’t get it. 

Don’t get me wrong, I was part of the problem. I should have been better at communicating what I had done, and insisted I be invited to the meeting. 

But the takeaway is, if an intervention had been planned and implemented consistently, it would have saved this child a lot of heartache. This is why this post is going to be dedicated to discussing consistency and its role in special education.

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Consistency is defined by google as “Conformity in the application of something.” 

“Conformity in the application of something.”

The dictionary according to Google

So what does that mean in plain English? 

It means you decide on a way of doing something, and you do it. 

Typically when we say consistency you think of a factory, with the workers turning out everything the same way. 

Sound simple right? Unless what you’re talking about is educating a human being with special needs or an autism spectrum disorder. Then consistency gets complicated.

In the case of special education teachers and SEITs, we can’t just decide to do something a certain way and let that be that.

Then you wind up in the situation I described in the story above, which is far from ideal. 

Everyone on the team has to agree on a course of action and actually execute it. Yes, I am talking about collaboration. You need it for consistent interventions. 

To read more on my thoughts on collaboration, click here!

Right now you might be thinking, but we aren’t in a factory. We aren’t turning out identical kids.

True. I hear you. Your interventions will always be different depending on the student and their needs.

But today we’re talking about consistency, which in our case, I’m going to define as everyone being uniform in what they expect the child to do and how to respond to behavior. 

That doesn’t mean everyone can’t put their own spin on it. I tend to make more jokes and use humor while implementing interventions, while other teachers I work with are more firm, but we’re all asking for the same thing at the end of the interaction.

That’s where the money is and how progress happens. Consistency leads to generalization.

Consistency matters because it helps your students with generalization.

Let’s look back at that story. My student and I had come up with a system for a way they could ask for help. They were capable of doing that with me. 

They were not capable of doing that with other teachers because I didn’t advocate for everyone to consistently work on that skill. 

I taught the skill. It didn’t generalize, which means, did I teach it at all? 

If you want to see real progress in your students you need consistency, not just in your interventions, but across your team. 


Yes, everyone.

No, I’m not kidding. 

Everyone needs to be consistent with the student, including caregivers. 

If a child can pour their own water with one teacher, then everyone who spends a significant amount of time teaching or caring for that child should be expecting them to pour their own water.

That includes OT, PT, Speech, parents, and caregivers.

I can already hear some people pulling their hair out thinking, how am I going to get parents involved in something like that. 

Dealing with parents and caregivers can be complicated, depending on your relationship with them, but they’re arguably the people you need to have involved the most because they spend more time with your student than you do.

And if your student doesn’t generalize the skill then they’re the ones who are going to get bitten or be pouring that kid’s water for the rest of time. Their lives will be impacted more than yours. 

Answer all their questions, stay calm, and help them practice with their child whenever you can. 

For more information on a SEIT’s relationship with parents check out this blog post!

Now if your student with autism goes to their grandmother’s house and she doesn’t know about consistency and pours them their water does that mean she ruined it?

No, absolutely not. 

The important thing is to be asking your student to demonstrate their new skill or stop doing dangerous behaviors as often as possible.

It not only encourages generalization but gives them more time to practice what they’re learning and get better and better at it. 

That can speed up interventions and improve their overall effectiveness.

Since you need parent involvement in this situation, I would recommend suggesting a meeting, or email chain in a pinch, with the whole team.

Ask your student’s parents for something they want the whole team to work on. Have the team come up with a plan for it in the meeting and plan frequent check-ins on how it’s going.

You might have to adjust and troubleshoot your initial plan. We do that with everything.

Yes, it’s that pesky collaboration again. Again click here for tips on collaborations with other teachers. 

While it might sound like a lot, remember this is what is ultimately in the best interest of your student. There is nothing more rewarding in our job than seeing a kiddo make progress!

Consistency can be a hard nut to crack. You need the right team behind it. However, I have seen again and again the power a consistent and collaborative team can make in a child’s life.

I say it’s worth it, and I don’t know where a lot of my students would be without it. 

Consistency is wonderful for students with autism and special needs of all kinds.

Find me on Instagram and let me know a time consistency helped one of your students!

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