Natural Environment Training, also known as NET, is an evidence-based instruction in Applied Behavior Therapy (ABA) utilized to enhance learning in everyday settings. NET is often used to teach socialization, communication, and generalization. Teaching is incorporated into play activities using familiar toys, games, and materials to maximize the learner’s motivation to continue the activity. NET is a less structured teaching style and can take place anywhere–at home, school, or in the community.
In a research paper written by Amy Mosier titled “Applied Behavior Analysis Techniques: Discrete Trial Training & Natural Environment Training,” Mosier explains why children with ASD receiving NET are able to verbally interact better with certain stimuli compared to other forms of ABA therapy. “It is because NET is focused on play. Since NET is done in the child’s most natural setting, it is believed by many theorists that this environment is the most effective for facilitating skills crucial for communication and language development. Thus, this teaching method would naturally lead to the spontaneous production of those skills in that environment.” This blog and the video attached will go into great detail about NET, the benefits of utilizing NET, and how it can be implemented!
What are the benefits and who may benefit from NET?
Natural Environment Teaching can help individuals with Autism from any age in several ways. One benefit of using NET is that a client has the opportunity to increase generalization. Generalization is when an individual is able to apply the skills that they learn in one setting to other settings, even in new or unfamiliar environments. This is essential because a client may learn to self-regulate their emotions in school, however, school is not the only setting in which this is important. They will also need to self-regulate their emotions at home, at the grocery store, at the park, and so on. By successfully generalizing this skill, they will be able to continue using this skill wherever they go.
Using NET can also improve the client’s motivation and engagement. One fundamental principle of NET is using the motivation of the individual to learn new socially significant skills. Since NET is often initiated by a client, the client can focus on topics they are interested in, meaning they’re more likely to retain the skills or behaviors they’re practicing. Since the client is doing activities they already enjoy, there may be fewer disruptive behaviors. The client will be motivated to limit disruptive behaviors such as irritability, aggression, or noncompliance when they are doing an activity they have chosen and want to do.
Many parents whose children receive ABA therapy are curious about how to get involved with therapy, and how to continue teaching their children when the therapists leave. A great thing about NET is that it’s extremely easy for parents to implement with their own children. Since NET is less structured and intensive than a typical ABA session, it’s easy for parents or caregivers to grab moments throughout the day to reinforce skills with their child. Practicing NET with your child outside of ABA sessions can significantly strengthen your relationship with your child. Caregivers and other family members also have the opportunity to be involved in everyday learning with the child when using this method.
What skills may be taught using this method?
NET allows learning to be natural and even fun for the learner. There are a variety of skills that can be taught using this method such as Incidental teaching, Natural reinforcement, Generalization, Prompting, and prompt fading. Incidental teaching is a strategy used in ABA that allows the Therapist to take advantage of naturally occurring ‘incidents’ or situations to provide learning opportunities for the client. The goal of incidental teaching is to increase a child’s motivation to speak. An example of this during NET can be a child playing with a toy car, the therapist may initiate a conversation about the car and use the opportunity to teach the child new vocabulary words. Another example can be a child learning social skills such as turn-taking and waiting while playing a board game with a friend.
Earlier we discussed generalization and it being a primary benefit of NET. Generalization is another skill that can be taught when using NET. Let’s discuss and explain an example. Generalization looks like a child understanding more significant concepts like sitting in a chair, sitting in different types of chairs, or learning to sit in a chair in different environments. If a student learns how to take turns during a game of Connect Four with a classmate in the library, and can then independently take turns playing Sorry with a sibling at home, the skill of taking turns has been generalized.
How should NET be implemented?
The NET activity should fit the skill you are targeting, and capture the child’s interest and motivation. Natural Environment Teaching takes place in a natural setting, such as a classroom, the playground, a store, during their favorite video, etc. NET can be utilized across many environments because of its flexibility and use of reinforcers. Due to its less structured nature, NET can be continued beyond the regular ABA therapy sessions held at a therapy center. Naturalistic teaching can easily be worked into a child’s daily routines with their parents, caregivers and other family members.
In this blog, we’ve discussed Natural Environment Teaching and its benefits. We explained the skills that can be taught with NET, and how to effectively implement NET. Before a skill is considered “mastered”, the child should be able to show us that she can use the skill during play or other real-life situations. For example, we can teach a child to label pictures of animals and then, while playing with a toy barn, the child can have the opportunity to ask for the animal they want. Net is all about learning in a fun and natural way. NET is not limited to just ABA therapists, parents and other caregivers can also engage in NET.
Mosier, Amy K. Ms., “Applied Behavior Analysis Techniques: Discrete Trial Training & Natural Environment Training” (2011). Research Papers. Paper 226. http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/gs_rp/226
Steege, M.W., Mace, F.C., Perry, L. and Longenecker, H. (2007), Applied behavior analysis: Beyond discrete trial teaching. Psychol. Schs., 44: 91-99. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.20208
Sundberg ML, Michael J. The benefits of Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior for children with autism. Behav Modif. 2001 Oct;25(5):698-724. doi: 10.1177/0145445501255003. PMID: 11573336.
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