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Establishing Generative Learning for Children with Autism

Mark Sundberg
Typically developing children demonstrate an explosion of language skills between the ages of 2 and 3 (e.g., Hart & Risley, 1995). During this period, a child acquires new speaker and listener skills rapidly, often without direct training or reinforcement. However, many children with autism struggle with, or fail to make this critical linguistic leap. This learning barrier could be related to a child’s inability to benefit from generative learning. Generative learning occurs when existing skills enable or accelerate the acquisition of other skills, without direct teaching or reinforcement (Rosales-Ruiz & Baer, 1997). Children with autism may be able to benefit from the powerful effects of generative learning if they acquire certain prerequisite and component skills and are provided with some specific training. The VB-MAPP contains a number of milestones that can be identified as measures of generative learning, and a child’s performance on these measures can be used to guide an intervention program. Several strategies for establishing generative learning will be described.

Presented at the 2020 Michigan Autism Conference

Mark Sundberg, Ph.D., BCBA-D received his doctorate degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Western Michigan University (1980) under the direction of Dr. Jack Michael. He is the author of the VB-MAPP, and co-author of the original ABLLS and the book Teaching Language to Children with Autism or Other Developmental Disabilities. He has published over 50 professional papers and 6 book chapters. His latest publication is a book chapter titled “Verbal Behavior” in Applied Behavior Analysis (3rd ed.) by Cooper, Heron, & Heward (2020). Dr. Sundberg is the founder and past editor of the journal The Analysis of Verbal Behavior, a twice past-president of The Northern California Association for Behavior Analysis, a past-chair of the Publication Board of ABAI, an ABAI Fellow, and he served two terms on the Board of Directors of the B. F. Skinner Foundation. Dr. Sundberg has given hundreds of conference presentations and workshops nationally and internationally, and taught 80 undergraduate and graduate courses on behavior analysis, verbal behavior, sign language, and child development. He is a licensed psychologist with over 45 years of experience. His awards include the 2001 “Distinguished Psychology Department Alumnus Award” from Western Michigan University, and the 2013 “Jack Michael Outstanding Contributions in Verbal Behavior Award” from ABAI’s Verbal Behavior Special Interest Group.

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