G-10: Teach simple and conditional discriminations ©

Important note: Fictionalized clients are used to demonstrate the skill items in the second half of the task list, sections F-I. They make the most sense when read in order. Please remember that there is not substitute for real-life supervision and consultation. Get your case-specific advice from professionals – not from the internet! These examples are just that – examples of how behavior analytic skills might be applied.


Case example: Jada is an elementary school student. She experiences Level 3 Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Level 3 is the severity level of Autism which is characterized by “requiring very substantial support.” Jada has also been diagnosed with a severe Intellectual Disability (ID). Jada has just transferred to a private school for individuals with global needs. She loves all kinds of play and messy activities, such as finger paint and water play. She also enjoys swinging on the playground, eating popcorn, and watching Disney movies. She loves to be read to, and laughs when staff make dramatic gestures while reading picture books. Jada does not use any vocal speech. She makes noises sometimes, such as humming. Jada engages in motor stimming, including upper body tensing and flapping her arms. Jada engages in severe challenging behavior, including self injury (hand to head and head to surface) and aggression (including hitting and biting). Jada has a mom, dad, and older brother living together in one home. Jada’s family has advocated for her to attend a private program, and they are excited for her to get high quality services. Jada’s new behavior analyst is Dr. Brown-Davis, who is a BCBA-D employed by the private program.

Example of Item G-10: In a simple discrimination, the target behavior (response) is under the control of one thing only.  In a conditional discrimination, the target behavior (response) is under the control of one thing when in the presence or context of something else. In Jada’s case, she initially did not have skills to get water by herself when she was thirsty. Staff used prompting to help her discriminate between using the sink and using other related appliances – only the sink produces water (reinforcement). This is a simple discrimination. Jada’s adaptive skills programming includes learning how to make her own food. When she goes to the sink and gets water when the picture recipe (task analysis) says “water,” that is a conditional discrimination, because Jada accessed the sink in the presence of the picture prompt to do so, and not in its absence (such as on a different step of the recipe). 


Case example: Donovan is a high school student. He has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). He attends a public school and has been placed in a support program for students with social/emotional/behavioral needs. Donovan enjoys playing video games and drawing in his sketchbook. He would like to be a welder when he is an adult. Academic achievement and attendance have been challenges for Donovan historically, and he is currently not on track to graduate with his peers due to missed work and failing grades in several classes. Donovan’s team has identified challenges including frequent non-attendance to school, walking the halls during class times, non-attendance at expected guidance appointments, and non-completion of classwork. Donovan lives with his mother and older brother. Donovan’s mother is concerned about her son’s school challenges and expresses frustration about his “lack of commitment” to his education. She wants Donovan to understand how important it is to graduate from high school. Donovan’s behavior analyst is Ms. Bailey, who has just started contracting with Donovan’s school district through the agency she works for.

Example of Item G-10: Ms. Bailey makes conditional discriminations a priority in her programming for Donovan. She teaches Donovan the signs of when an adult is busy, so he can assess whether or not teachers and/or paraprofessionals are able to facilitate his break requests. By teaching these skills, Donovan engages in a high level of successful functional communication responses, cementing the response in his repetoire.

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