Natural Environment Teaching (NET)

Natural Environment Teaching (NET) utilizes the principles of ABA to teach within the natural environment of the learner. In NET clients acquire new skills through fun and reinforcing play activities. Goals are taught directly by inserting “trials” into natural and fun play. Many learners on the Autism spectrum have  limited play skills so NET focuses on pairing clients preferred items and activities with new activities   in an effort to expand the learner’s interests and teach new skills. NET is also implemented to transfer newly learned skills from a structured 1:1 therapy environment to the natural setting.

Why Natural Environment Teaching is Important

There are many therapy programs that only teach in a highly structured setting and fail to teach skills in the learners natural environment.  Many times skills that are learned in unnatural settings are not utilized outside of therapy sessions. Unfortunately for learners on the Autism Spectrum this can lead to a lack of generalization of the skill. A lack of generalization is evidenced when a learner is only able to perform the skill in the setting in which it was taught and many times only with the one person that taught the skill. NET prevents these problems from occurring by focusing on a broad generalization of newly learned skills across environments, people and times. If a skill is taught in a 1:1 environment it is then taught in multiple environments with as many of the learners family members and caretakers as possible and across different times of the day. In NET even simple things within an environment are varied such as sitting in different chairs or on a rug rather than at the table and outside rather than always inside. The more variance in the environment the more likely the skill will become generalized and the learner will be able to use the skill across all the different environments and with the different people in their lives.

Motivation In Natural Environment Teaching

In NET instructions are influenced by the learners motivation and therapy sessions are held in the clients everyday environment such as the home. At the beginning of an ABA therapy program it is especially important for therapists to pair themselves with reinforcing activities in order to build rapport and trust with the learner and, as a result, capture the learners motivation to interact and learn. This important beginning stage helps to capture and maintain motivation throughout the ABA therapy program. Goals are individualized and focus on the learners specific needs and these needs are focused on during activities of the learners interest and choosing. Therapists follow the learners lead when choosing activities and goals are inserted into these activities to maintain high motivation.

Prompting In Natural Environment Teaching

To increase retention and generalization of skills in NET and to prevent learners from becoming prompt dependent, prompts are always faded out as quickly as possible. This fading out of prompt intrusiveness promotes independent use of skills in the learners natural environments. Prompts are faded from the most intrusive to the least intrusive. The most intrusive prompts are typically full physical prompts (AKA hand over hand prompts) which are faded to partial physical prompts and then to verbal prompts or partial verbal prompts which are faded to gesture or delay prompts, the next step  for the learner is the independent use of the skill. When teaching a child to mand/request, an example of prompt fading would be to start with a full verbal prompt and then to fade out until independent manding/requesting is reached. If a child is not yet imitating words but is able to imitate sounds, a whole word would not be required to gain access to what they want. As the child displays an increased ability to imitate and approximate sounds, better and better word approximations are required.