Naturalized Environment TrainingLast updated Tuesday, April 05, 2011 |
Children naturally learn language and other behaviors as they are involved in daily life. Observation of others, play and interactions ‘teach’ children developmental tasks and skills. For those with conditions such as Autism and other Pervasive Developmental Disorders, however, the activities of typical daily living are frequently not adequate teaching experiences. These children often have multiple areas of development that are affected by symptoms of their disorders. For example, difficulties with attention, communication, processing of information, motivation and relationships interfere with learning. Children with such impairments can, however, with specialized teaching methods, also learn in their naturally occurring environments. In order to help children with disabling conditions such as those in the Autism Spectrum, teaching methods can be adapted within the child’s common daily environments such as home and school. Specialized teaching methods that are used in these ways are known as techniques of naturalized environment teaching. Sometimes called Naturalized Environment Training or NET, these can involve a variety of teaching methods. These methods are used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) which focuses upon teaching children behaviors in a step-by-step fashion. While there are trained ABA therapists that work with these children, parents and others in the child’s daily life can be taught such methods to use between therapy sessions. NET methods work best when the child receives consistent teaching in all settings. Since these methods use rewards and consequences, it is most effective when all settings of the child’s daily life reward the same desired behaviors (Gomez, 2006).
NET helps children learn developmental tasks and skills because ‘teachers’ can be anyone that spends time with the child such as parents, siblings, other family members, school teachers and caregivers. When trained in naturalized environment teaching methods these individuals can assist children to learn in their naturally occurring and daily settings and activities. Children with Autism and other developmental disorders need such alternative methods of instruction and learning. Tasks and skills that are ‘broken down’ into smaller steps eventually combine into larger goals to help overcome the developmental delays of these conditions (Maurice, 1996).
NET is based on a variety of principles. Some of these are briefly outlined below:
- Reinforcements—rewards given to a child for positive steps taken toward learning new behavior or performing the desired behavior. For example, a child is rewarded with playtime with a special toy after practicing a new behavior.
- Shaping—learning small steps that move toward the new behavior. For example, pointing to a cookie is a step in learning to ask for the cookie.
- Chaining—learning a series of new behaviors that will become a more complex behavior. For example, a child learns to dress himself by learning take a shirt out of the closet, put it and button it.
- Approximation—a ‘near-miss’ that is progress toward a new behavior. For example, a child may be rewarded for looking at a toy when the ultimate goal is to have the child for the toy.
- Generalization—applying what has been learned to a new situation. For example, a child learns to pick up toys in his bedroom. He will then apply his skill for ‘picking up toys’ in other rooms of the home or at school.
There are several teaching methods that effectively teach children with Autism and other Pervasive Developmental Disorders during daily activities. Some examples of these are:
- PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) –a communication tool that uses pictures of common objects for children who have language deficits to learn language or substitute for spoken language
- Incidental Teaching—teaching takes advantage of naturally occurring situations that are spontaneous opportunities for learning
- Visual Strategies—teaching uses supports such as flashcards, storybooks and pictures
Children Who May Benefit From the Use of NET
Children with Autism or other such disorders of the Autism Spectrum (Pervasive Development Disorders) such as Rett’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and Atypical Autism (Autism NOS) have benefitted from the use of NET.
The Impact of NET upon Children and Their Families
Both children and their family members benefit from NET. Children can become more independent and more age-appropriate in their daily functioning and this reduces stress for the child and family. Greater independence also improves self-concept, self-esteem and feelings of self-worth for the child. Children are able to function more effectively in academic, home and social life. Families will need to seek out professionals trained in Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) or NET in order to receive training. A physician will be able to make an appropriate recommendation and referral for NET training. Additionally, organizations that support research and advocacy for the treatment of Autism and other Pervasive Development Disorders can provide information and resource information.
Gomez, C. (2006). Applied Behavior Analysis: Beyond Discrete Trial Teaching. ASAs 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders. Providence: ASA.
Maurice, C. e. (1996). Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism: A Manual for Parents and Professionals. Austin, TX: PRO-ED.