The American Psychological Association defines conditional discrimination as discrimination “in which reinforcement of a response in the presence of a stimulus depends on the presence of other stimuli.”

ABA therapists use discrimination therapy to help children that struggle with the language and communication skills necessary to discriminate between objects. These kinds of struggles are common early indicators of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ABA providers familiar with conditional discrimination learning understand its value in helping children develop the communication skills they need to communicate their needs and interact with others effectively.

With a tool like data collection in Catalyst, conditional discrimination learning best practices are easy. Data collection is how ABA providers monitor their client’s progress.

With Catalyst, ABA therapists can complete discrete trials, recording specific learner responses and instructor prompts to every trial using continuous data collection. Keep reading to learn more about applying conditional discrimination within Catalyst.

Arrange the Antecedents and Behaviors

The first thing providers will do inside Catalyst is introduce multiple targets in a set. Catalyst enables ABA providers to introduce a minimum of 3 targets at the onset of training and exit them simultaneously. These three targets will be introduced together and mastered together. While the minimum is three, this tool allows for up to 6 discriminations.

Providers should avoid opposite actions during instruction for following target sets as well as minimize the similarity in auditory or visual features within a set.

For example, if working colors, you would not want to include red and orange in the same set or black and blue due to their similarities in visual or auditory stimuli. While providers might progress here in the future, it is not a good place to start in earlier conditional discriminations.

It is important that providers start with easier conditional discrimination sets before moving to harder sets. (example: start with red, blue, and yellow rather than red, orange, yellow.)

Options for Set Size:

With Catalyst, the conditional discrimination tool offers several discrimination options to help ABA providers. These array options include:

  • The option for a provider to choose a 3, 4, 5, or 6 item array.
  • The option to choose what is best for their client’s current skill set.
  • The ability to combine known sets into larger sets

Enter a Prompt Schedule

For the conditional discrimination tool in Catalyst, providers will need to create a prompt schedule using the MTL response prompt. The steps for creating a prompt schedule include:

Naming the prompt

Choose Prompt Code (MTL) – Full physical, partial physical, gestural, then independent.
Once a prompt is created, it will remain available for any conditional discrimination target that an ABA provider creates.


Catalyst’s tool can help providers follow the recommended format creating sets that were mentioned earlier. It offers counterbalance features that help providers format sets in an effective way.

How counterbalancing works during a probe set:

If your stimuli include yellow, red, and blue the presentation might tell you to have yellow on the left, red in the middle, and blue on the right. The tool will automatically counterbalance each sample set. Each stimulus will hold each position one time.

To achieve a true counterbalance, the number of trials in each session will vary. This allows for the length of the set to increase with where the client is in their learning.

  • 3 item set = 9 trials
  • 4 item set = 16 trials
  • 5 item set = 25 trials
  • 6 item set = 36 trials


Use Effective Prompts and Fading Procedures

Catalyst has built-in increasing assistance prompts to help teachers assess where their clients are in their learning as well as decreasing assistance (errorless or MTL assistance) that allows for effective teaching post-assessment. Probe and teach sessions, within the conditional discrimination tool, begin each session block with a single LTM probe for each target, then uses a controlling prompt for each teaching trial and scores the selection response in each presentation, and then scores for accuracy and advance the prompts if needed.

The probes guide the subsequent teaching trials. The tools will override the existing promotion and demotion schedule to execute prompt changes within the trial. Catalyst’s conditional discrimination tool was designed to assist in rapid prompt fading.

As ABA providers move through the teaching trials, every default prompt will be matched to the prompt needed during the probe section for that stimulus. For example, if a child gets an answer wrong, it will update the probe from gestural to partial physical, meaning the assistance needed will be increased automatically as the client moves through the trial. Increasing the assistance ensures a reduction in errors for the client.

Critical Parts of the Conditional Discrimination Tool

Catalyst has designed this tool to creatively design a visual field for an RBT to guide their actions during that trial. For example:

  • All stimuli presented simultaneously
  • Numbers to help RBTs recognize their position
  • Noticeable colors that identify target stimulus
  • Editable Instructions (probe and teaching)
  • Adaptive Bias Avoidance

This tool enables providers to automatically and adaptively avoid positional and stimulus bias that might occur during the process. While counterbalancing (rotation of trials, positions, and targets) will naturally prevent some bias, a stimulus or positional bias can still occur.

For example, if a client makes an error on their previous assessment, the tool will automatically adjust to help them avoid that stimulus/position on the next trial to prevent bias from taking place. This puts the best of ABA science right at their fingertips.

Analyze Data to Evaluate Progress or Mastery

  • Analyze the set
  • Assess for independent accuracy for consecutive probes
  • Accuracy of trial blocks for the set
  • Master entire set together
  • If one item is not known, the full conditional discrimination is not intact.
  • All items of the set must be known to have mastery.

Tool guides to comprehensive mastery

Once mastery is achieved on a single set, the tool combines known sets into mastery sets.


The portal allows providers to create specific data points
View graphs for different sets (percent correct independent, percent correct independent trials, etc. different data collected in different sessions)

Ultimately, it is the complete independent correct responding that will impact an ABA provider’s clinical decision-making for mastery. The data collection tool in the conditional discrimination feature helps ABA providers understand where their client is and what needs to be done to achieve mastery.

What is Involved in Using this Tool from Start to Finish

  • Enter the Sequence of your Prompts for this
  • Program
    Select Your Targets Carefully
  • Enter them into the tool in a Set of 3,4,5, or 6
  • For Each Session, Conduct a Single Least to Most Probe for Each Target
  • Teach all Counterbalanced Trials using the Controlling Prompt as Indicated
  • Most to Least Prompts in the tool
  • Analyze Your Data in Sets
  • Combine the Known Sets to Mastery


With Catalyst, ABA providers can have quick access to all of the tools they need to follow conditional discrimination best practices, collect data, and offer quality care to their clients.

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This post is for informational purposes only and is not meant to be used in lieu of practitioners’ own due diligence, state and federal regulations, and funders’ policies. 

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