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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

Receptive Identification in ABA & Its Application to the Natural Environment

Listening to a speaker and comprehending what that speaker is saying is an essential skill for all people. Children with autism spectrum disorder often struggle with this skill of communication. This ability is referred to as receptive language skills. Sometimes it is known as listener skills or even auditory comprehension (Fischer, et. al., 2019).

Receptive identification of visual stimuli is a common goal for many children with autism spectrum disorder receiving applied behavior analysis. This is especially common in young children receiving early intervention ABA services.

An example of receptive identification could be in a scenario in which a child is sitting at a table and the behavior technician who is providing ABA services is sitting near him. The behavior technician lays out three flash cards on the table which display images of a bowl, a spoon, and a cup. The behavior technician says to the child, “Show me the spoon.” The child points to the spoon – which would be considered a correct answer.

It is important in ABA services to consider how any goals that are taught in a discrete trial training manner (as in the scenario above) applies to the child’s natural day to day life.

In the case of receptive identification, being able to respond to a speaker asking the listener to identify a specific item is extremely important for daily functioning. The above example could be generalized into a natural setting, in the child’s day to day environment, in a situation in which his mother says to the child, “Grab me a spoon, please.”

If the child does not have efficient receptive identification skills, he will not be able to participate in this interaction with his mother as well as many other moments and experiences of typical everyday activities.

Fisher, W. W., Retzlaff, B. J., Akers, J. S., DeSouza, A. A., Kaminski, A. J. and Machado, M. A. (2019), Establishing initial auditory‚Äźvisual conditional discriminations and emergence of initial tacts in young children with autism spectrum disorder. Jnl of Applied Behav Analysis. doi:10.1002/jaba.586

Receptive Identification in ABA & Its Application to the Natural Environment

Heather Gilmore, MSW, BCBA

Heather is a freelance writer, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and social worker. Heather takes interest in topics related to parenting, children, families, personal development, health and wellness, applied behavior analysis, as well as Autism, ADHD, Depression and Anxiety. Contact Heather if you would like to inquire about obtaining her freelance writing services. You can view more articles and resources from Heather at and email her at [email protected] You can also advertise your autism services at one of Heather's websites: Heather is the developer of the "One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum."


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APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2019). Receptive Identification in ABA & Its Application to the Natural Environment. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 6, 2020, from