Discrimination Training

So we know that discrimination training is a procedure that establishes stimulus control. Often when I see people use discrimination training it is to teach very basic skills like colors in the good ole 1:1 table time format. For example teaching a student to discriminate between colors  or wh questions.

color flash cards

But did you know that discrimination training is an essential component of social skills instruction even for ‘high functioning’ students, and an essential component of the TI? There are a number of components of social skills that we use discrimination training to teach.

Usually we start with the concept of “cool” vs “not cool”. Those familiar with Michelle Garcia Winner’s social thinking curriculum may know it as “expected” vs “unexpected” behaviors; but I think cool/uncool is much more naturalistic and simple a concept for kids to grasp. During a teaching interaction we have students evaluate performance of the model as cool or not cool. This is a form of discrimination training.

Another essential application of discrimination training is teaching students when they should or shouldn’t use a skill. For example you may be helping a student learn to initiate interactions with peers. Well, there are appropriate times and inappropriate times to do this. What cues are there in the environment that it is appropriate for him to use the skill you are teaching him. THink about the student who hugs everyone. Hugs are not the problem- its learning to hug under the right circumstances.


Many behavior problems I am called in to consult on are behavioral excesses or deficits where the student has the foundations for a skill but is unsure of when and where to use the skill- Discrimination training teaches the student what to cue into to let her know NOW is the time!