Natural Environment Teaching (NET): Teaching in Generalized Environments

Guest Authored By Amber Young, MA, RBT

Blue Bird Day and Natural Environment

In the world of applied behavior analysis (ABA), there are many ways to teach an individual a certain skill. Typically, you may hear or see your child’s BCBA/RBT teach a skill using Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT). DTT is a structured ABA intervention individualizing and simplifying instructions to enhance children’s learning. When implementing DTT, it is generally highly structured in nature, with a one-on-one approach to help break down a complex task into small increments. DTT is presented to learners by presenting tasks/instructions so there is a clear beginning and end, which in all makes tasks discrete. When expanding your child’s learning to generalize into multiple environments, natural environment teaching (NET) is the way to go!  

Natural environment teaching (NET) is an evidence-based intervention that utilizes the principles of ABA to teach your child in the natural environment aka “the real world”. Unlike DTT, NET allows the instructor to contrive instructions based on the learner’s motivationwhich is carried out in a modified, natural environment. Environments that qualify as “natural” include homes (child’s room, living room, kitchen), stores, parks, etc. There are multiple advantages to implementing NET. Some of the advantages include: authentic reinforcers and consequences; relying on natural and functional stimuli; family members and peers becoming more active in NET training. Another great feature of NET is not only providers have to implement the intervention; you, the parent/friend, can do this at home! Below is an example of how NET is taught in generalized, natural environment 

* Coloring with markers and a coloring book is the example we will use today* 

  • Set up the environment to be able to contrive an instruction from the learner  
  • We can accomplish this by first cleansing the environment: closing additional toy boxes and distractors and putting them out of reach but still present in the environment. 
  • Placing the coloring book and markers in front of the learner and instructor. 
  • Make sure the red marker is in both individual’s reach, allowing the instructor to have control and have access to materials in order to contrive instruction. 
  • When a child gravitates to his/her favorite coloring book and markers, they reach for the red marker. In this case, the instructor/parent is able to contrive an instruction by prompting the child to request for the red marker by asking “What do you want? or “What color do you want?”. NET allows the red marker to be the reinforcer versus providing another item.  

Teaching NET in generalized environments isn’t the easiest thing to tackle but don’t get discouraged. Always remember to make it fun, actively participate with your child’s BCBA to help create goals and stay up to date with what you’re targeting