Natural Environment Teaching, or NET, is one of the most commonly implemented methods of providing ABA therapy to children with autism. It is used as a way to help children and adults with autism to become more proficient at generalizing skills.
NET is an instructional method using ABA principles, and is considered one of the best bridges between a formal clinical setting and a ‘real-life’ setting. For more on how NET works and can help your child with autism, we’ve created this quick guide about the practice.
What is Natural Environment Teaching?
Natural Environment Teaching for children with autism is a way to develop skills that they can use across various environments – also known as generalization. NET is often implemented in ‘play-based’ ways, so that children can learn in a naturalistic setting that isn’t always at a table in a therapy room.
NET is not necessarily always structured as play; in fact, it is a less formal treatment than many other elements of autism therapy. However, one of the key principles of NET is using the child’s interest as motivation to learn new skills rather than hoping a rigid structure will drag their attention along.
Ultimately, NET training is just one tool that a therapist might use for your child with autism – it works well for many children and can be adapted for individuals of all ages in any setting. Thus, it is important to have discussions with your child’s clinicians or therapists about naturalistic environment teaching ideas.
How Does NET Help Children with Autism?
NET can help children with autism learn new skills that are pivotal in development as well as help strengthen behavioral mechanics they are already working on. These skills are often related to language, socialization, or self-growth. By using play-based techniques and incorporating the child’s interests into the teaching, it is often easy to sustain the child’s motivation to learn.
Additionally, NET is one of the premier ways to teach a child to generalize. While many therapies can be provided in clinics, schools, or homes, the methods there do not always translate well when a child has to practice their acquired skills in a different environment. NET aims to create teaching and playing environments that are not as contrived, which can allow a child with autism to self-regulate how they feel during learning and apply it across multiple environments.
Six Examples of Natural Environment Teaching
Now that we’ve covered a bit about the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of NET, here are 6 real-world examples that a therapist might implement for your child with autism:
1. Color-coordinate toys: Having a child learn to receptively and expressively label items that they are playing with is a great way to keep them interested and learning in a naturalistic environment.
2. Identify and position toys: Naming toys based on their appearance (animal or action figure toys, for example) and then having them arranged in specific ways is a great method to let a child demonstrate their aptitude. For example, let them show that they know what “next to” or “in a line” mean.
3. Teaching how to ask for daily items: Whether it is in a grocery store or at breakfast, NET can be used to reinforce asking for correct items such as ‘juice’ by rewarding them with a sip of it.
4. Specific movements that can be generalized: Playing with a ball or toy that you can “pick up” and “put down” are things that will intuitively generalize across other environments. All of a sudden, your child will know the mechanics for picking up a messy room or putting down an item they are not supposed to have.
5. Learning how to dress for different weather: Teaching a child how to “put on a coat” when it is cold, or to “take off a hat” when they are warm are great examples of learning multiple mechanics in one session. Having the child communicate why they are taking something off (they are ‘hot’) is showing a sensory recognition as well as a movement in an area that often causes struggle for children with autism.
6. Solving Puzzles: Long-term projects that can engage multiple skills are great NET teaching tools. They can incorporate memory, teamwork, and can show progressive levels of challenges that a student with autism must respond to.
There are tons of other great ways to implement naturalistic teaching or NET principles. We encourage parents, students, and therapists to have a way to keep track of their favorite NET teaching ideas such as a journal or notecards.
Get the Best Natural Environment Teaching with Ally Pediatric Therapy
At Ally Pediatric Therapy, we have decades of experience incorporating NET into our ABA frameworks. Our BCBAs and licensed therapists are able to work with parents and children alike to learn the best way to create NET methods that are unique and effective. If you are interested in learning more about whether Natural Environment Teaching is suited for your child with autism, please reach out today. We’d love to have a conversation about how we can work together for the growth of your child.