Natural Environment Training (NET) is part of Applied Behavioral Analyses therapy (ABA). NET works with the natural environment around the child and moves learning from a desk to the real world; something that ABA promotes. This is fantastic for generalization and promoting skills that have already been taught. NET also works with natural motivators; these are toys and objects around the home (or therapy office) that the child would like to play with or use. This technique isn’t about the traditional sit-down and learn, it focuses on the child’s ability to learn whilst they play.
NET is a great thing to implement in the home because it uses your environment to teach your child the skills they learned in therapy. For example, if your child is working on how to say goodbye and hello, you can help them wave to people who come to visit, or when you take them to daycare, or anywhere else you can think of. To do this, you model the desired behavior for the child and make a big, fun, parade out of saying hello or goodbye everywhere you go.
ABA is all about collecting data and using structure, and reward, to help a child learn certain skills. But when you switch to using NET techniques the therapy becomes louder, with plenty of speech and exciting play. NET can get spontaneous and uses your child’s desires to help teach them. The therapist may set up a color matching game for the child to play, as they could be learning colors, but then have to switch to manding as the child asks for different objects.
If you’re wondering as a parent what this would look like, the therapist should be talking a lot about everything they are doing. They should model behaviors (showing the child how to correctly do things), they should ask questions, and use the world around the child to engage in what they want to engage in. This shouldn’t be a forced, stiff point in the therapy. It should look much like when you talk to a very young child about the world around them, commenting on everything you are doing.
NET is a thrilling part of ABA for an Autistic child. Children on the spectrum can’t often play appropriately, and so don’t learn through play as well as other children would. This is precisely what NET helps to promote, play, joy and learning, all rolled into one.