For most families the idea of learning some of the practices that we put into place within an ABA therapy session can be overwhelming, and understandably so. However, Natural Environment Teaching (i.e., NET) is a far less intensive means of providing instruction within the context of fun. What we are seeking to achieve in the NET is to bring the skills that we have intensively taught at the table, which is a highly structured environment, into a more natural setting. Basically, how can these skills be applied in the natural setting?
Dr. Mary Lynch Barbera, author of The Verbal Behavior Approach, explains the NET and the role of family participation perfectly, “Equally important, though, is every parent and caregiver understands the principals of ABA [Applied Behavior Analysis] and VB [Verbal Behavior], so that even a trip to the grocery store can be a learning experience.” This is a book that I often recommend for people that have recently been introduced into the world of ABA. The author does a wonderful job of explaining the complexities of ABA and VB in simplistic terms, and provides a variety of everyday examples that are easy to digest and understand.
Barbera goes on to describe some important components to NET. One of the ways in which we can most effectively teach language is to teach in as many settings throughout the day, and across multiple people and situations. During these instances, we are typically looking to have the learner use the different repertoires that they have acquired. For example, setting up opportunities for the learner to request for a variety of items and activities – requests or mands (e.g., “cookie” or “turn the page”) having the learner respond to directions – receptive language or listener responding (e.g., the parent asks, “get the duck” and the child grabs the duck to put into a puzzle board), repeating back different words or sounds – vocal imitation or echoic (e.g., parent says “moo” while playing with a cow figurine, and the child repeats this sound back), having the learner label or tact the different things that they see, hear, smell, taste, or touch (e.g., while reading a book the parent asks, “What’s that animal?” and the child responds, “chicken”), and finally intraverbals, which is the ability to answer a question. Some of the first intraverbal skills that children begin to learn are fill-ins from songs or on-going activities (e.g., “Old MacDonald had a…” and the child says, “farm.” It can also be, “We go up and…” and the child says, “down”).
Remember to keep the activity fun, so that you aren’t requiring too much. It’s important to work with their motivation, try to find toys, games, and other activities that they love. Below I have provided a link to Barbera’s website where you can learn more about her and her book.