The Benefits of Using Natural Environment Teaching

ABA therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis) is a data-driven and evidence based form of therapy that helps children with autism develop skills and habits that will allow them to be more independent in their daily life.

There are several approaches to ABA therapy. The most popular method within ABA Therapy is Discrete Trial Training (DTT). This involves teaching a variety of skills through trials that are ran at a table and in a more controlled environment. Another popular method that is growing in the field of ABA is natural environment teaching, or NET.

NET involves teaching skills in a natural setting, as close to real life as possible. There are many benefits to using NET in ABA therapy.

Benefits of Natural Environment Teaching

  • Desensitization to potentially scary environments such as a hair salon or dentist’s office 
  • Learning daily habits for personal hygiene
  • Therapy is provided in an environment that allows for more opportunities to develop social skills
  • NET, when done in a child-led format, teaches the child problem-solving skills
  • Children can be more motivated to learn in a natural environment vs. a controlled environment
  • Greater emphasis is placed on using the interests of the child to learn
  • Core principles of NET are rooted in positive reinforcement

Natural Environment Teaching (NET): definition and benefits


Over the years, using the NET method meant that a child would be learning specific skills in a more natural environment as opposed to at a table in a more traditional style of ABA using the DTT method discussed earlier.

For example, if a child is learning how to brush their teeth, a board-certified behavior analyst may be teaching them this skill in a bathroom in front of a mirror. This would certainly qualify as a form of NET because the bathroom is a natural environment.

However, as NET has evolved and new studies have come out showing positive outcomes associated with it (Natural Environment Training | SpringerLink), researchers and clinicians have expanded on ways to use NET learning to expand their therapy sessions.

Centers like Blossom have taken the next step and have set up their entire center and programs in a completely natural setting that looks like a school and/or home setting. This allows the child to generalize skills that are being learned at the center.

Because of this exposure the child can be more independent and use these skills in their daily life outside the center. For example, if a child learns how to greet others in a grocery store, they are more likely to greet others in other places, such as at school or at a friend’s house.

What is Generalization Anyways? How Can NET Help?

Generalization in the context of ABA should be seen as the end goal of your child’s therapy journey. The journey starts with the child lacking certain skills or not being able to do daily tasks on their own. Through ABA and other therapies children can get the help they need to reach these goals as they relate to specific tasks.

However, what many families unfortunately experience is that when their child is asked to complete these tasks outside of the center where they are receiving services, the child can often struggle. This usually happens because the child is used to being in a controlled environment at their center.

Because a child is used to being at their center they develop a level of comfort at the center. There is less uncertainty because they know who will be with them and typically will know what to expect and what their surroundings will look like.

This is why generalization is so important to a child’s growth. If a child is able to learn a certain skill or do an activity in a specific situation, they should be able to utilize that skill or do that activity in another context. NET offers more opportunities for children to practice those skills in a variety of environments and social situations.

By putting the child in different settings and allowing them to practice the skills and activities they’ve learned they can develop a sense of comfort. That comfort will set your child up for success beyond their therapy center!

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