What is Natural Environment Teaching (NET)?

Natural Environment Teaching (NET) also known as Naturalistic Intervention (NI) integrates the principles of ABA into the natural environment or into a learner’s everyday routines and activities so that the acquired skills may be more easily generalised.

An example of NET might include a learner’s favourite toys, such as animal figurines. The Behavior Technician (BT) can target the skill development of learning prepositions by engaging in play with the child and giving natural instructions using prepositions, i.e., ‘Let’s put this tiger next to the lion!’ When the child demonstrates the correct understanding of ‘next to,’ the BT might provide social praise. Or, the BT may make the lion and tiger roar, which is both naturally reinforcing and fun for the child. This increases the likelihood the child will demonstrate another correct understanding when the BT uses ‘next to’ in the future. 


Naturalistic intervention meets the evidence-based practice criteria set by the US National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder (NPDC) with 10 single case design studies. The practice has been effective with learners in early intervention (0-2 years) to elementary school learners (6-11 years). Evidence-based practices (EBP) and studies included in the 2014 EBP report detailed how naturalistic intervention can be used effectively to address: social, communication, joint attention, behaviour, and academic outcomes.

Benefits of Natural Environment Teaching

A benefit of NET is that it allows for teaching to be functional for the learner. It isn’t enough to memorise answers or responses if the knowledge doesn’t functionally apply to their everyday environment. By incorporating teaching into familiar environments, children are more likely to experience natural reinforcement outside of ABA sessions.

For example, teaching a child the function of a chair: sitting. A child might learn to say a chair is for sitting, but struggle to take direction when asked to siWhat is Natural Environment Teaching (NET)? t. During a play segment with a doll house, a BT might ask how a doll can sit at a table. If the child chooses the chair, they have demonstrated an understanding of the function in a natural play environment and generalised from the initial learning environment. This is how we can tell when a skill is truly mastered rather than memorised! 

When children struggle to engage in play segments an external motivator can be used as a form of reinforcement. External motivators can be anything a child enjoys and considers a reward. They could include playing with stickers, bubbles, or playing a game on an iPad.  After a play segment is completed and the targeted skills are demonstrated, using these motivators can act as a reinforcement. A visual cue such as a token board can also be used to show a learner when they are engaging in the desired behaviour and ‘earning’ access to the external motivator. As the learner further demonstrates independence and increased motivation for play routines, these motivators can gradually fade out while the play activity itself becomes reinforcing.

Conclusion remarks

NET allows learning to be natural and even fun for the learner. In the best NET segments, the child doesn’t even realise that they are learning or being taught a specific skill; it occurs naturally. Your Clinical Team is a great resource to help identify NET opportunities in your home and ensure that your child continues to develop skills across their natural environments.


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