Introduction to ABA Transfer Trials

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a widely recognized therapy for individuals with autism and other developmental disorders. One of the key components of ABA is the use of transfer trials, a teaching method designed to help individuals generalize learned skills across different contexts and stimuli. Transfer trials are essential for ensuring that skills learned in one setting or situation can be applied in various other settings, promoting greater independence and adaptability.

What are Transfer Trials?

Transfer trials are a method used in ABA therapy to help individuals transfer or generalize a learned response from one stimulus to another. The primary goal of transfer trials is to ensure that a skill or behavior is not just associated with a specific set of conditions but can be applied more broadly. This process involves systematically teaching a skill and then gradually introducing variations in the stimuli to ensure the behavior is maintained across different contexts.

Purpose of Transfer Trials

The main purposes of transfer trials include:

  • Generalization: Ensuring that a learned behavior can be applied in various settings, with different people, and under different conditions.
  • Skill Maintenance: Helping maintain learned behaviors over time, even when the initial teaching conditions are no longer present.
  • Adaptive Learning: Promoting flexibility and adaptability in the individual’s behavior, allowing them to function more independently.

How Transfer Trials Work

Implementing transfer trials in ABA involves several structured steps to ensure that learned behaviors are effectively generalized across different contexts. Here’s a detailed process:

Transfer trials involve several steps to ensure the effective generalization of skills:

  • Initial Teaching:
    • Start by teaching the desired behavior or skill using a specific stimulus (e.g., a verbal instruction or visual cue).
    • Ensure the individual can reliably demonstrate the behavior in response to the initial stimulus through repeated practice and reinforcement.
  • Introduce New Stimuli:
    • Gradually introduce variations of the original stimulus. This might include different ways of giving the instruction, using different materials, or changing the environment.
    • For example, if teaching a child to request a toy by saying “I want the car,” introduce different pictures of cars, actual toy cars, and car-related items.
  • Reinforcement:
    • Provide positive reinforcement each time the individual demonstrates the desired behavior in response to the new stimuli.
    • Reinforcement helps strengthen the association between the behavior and the varied conditions, making the behavior more likely to occur in different settings.
  • Fading Prompts:
    • Gradually reduce the support or prompts provided during the teaching process.
    • Encourage the individual to demonstrate the behavior independently, without relying on prompts.
  • Monitor Progress:
    • Continuously monitor the individual’s performance across different settings and stimuli.
    • Collect data to assess how well the behavior is being generalized and identify any areas where additional support may be needed.
  • Adjust as Needed:
    • Based on the data collected, make necessary adjustments to the teaching strategy.
    • Ensure that the behavior is consistently demonstrated across all desired contexts.

Examples of Transfer Trials

Example 1: Teaching a Child to Request a Toy

  • Initial Teaching: The therapist teaches the child to request a toy by saying, “I want the car,” when shown a picture of a car.
  • Introducing New Stimuli: The therapist then presents the child with different pictures of cars, actual toy cars, and car-related items to ensure the child can make the request in various contexts.
  • Reinforcement: Each time the child correctly requests the toy, they receive positive reinforcement, such as praise or a turn with the toy.
  • Fading: The therapist gradually reduces the prompts, encouraging the child to make the request independently.

Example 2: Teaching Social Greetings

  • Initial Teaching: The therapist teaches the child to say “Hello” when they meet someone new.
  • Introducing New Stimuli: The therapist arranges for the child to meet different people in various settings, such as at home, in school, and in the community.
  • Reinforcement: The child receives positive reinforcement each time they appropriately greet someone.
  • Fading: The therapist gradually fades the prompts and reinforcement, encouraging the child to initiate greetings on their own.

Enhancing Transfer Trials: Additional Considerations

  • Consistency: Ensure that all therapists and caregivers use consistent prompts and reinforcement strategies across different settings.
  • Variety: Introduce a wide variety of stimuli and contexts early in the training to promote robust generalization.
  • Parental Involvement: Involve parents and caregivers in the transfer trials to reinforce the skills in natural settings.
  • Data Collection: Systematically collect data on the individual’s performance across different contexts to identify areas needing additional support.

Advantages of Transfer Trials

  • Improved Independence: Transfer trials help individuals apply learned skills independently across various settings, enhancing their overall independence.
  • Increased Adaptability: By promoting generalization, transfer trials increase the individual’s ability to adapt to new situations and challenges.
  • Enhanced Quality of Life: Successful generalization of skills leads to greater participation in daily activities and improved quality of life for individuals with autism.


Transfer trials are a vital component of ABA therapy, ensuring that learned behaviors and skills are generalized across different contexts. By systematically teaching and reinforcing behaviors with varying stimuli, transfer trials promote independence, adaptability, and improved quality of life for individuals with autism. Implementing effective transfer trials requires consistency, variety, and ongoing monitoring to ensure success.