Keepin' It Natural Using NET

We live in an age of abbreviations. You may have seen a PCM to discuss a learner’s DD or ASD diagnosis. They may have suggested ABA to assist in strengthening their VB by using DTT, PRT, or NET. You could almost LOL but shrug it off because YOLO and would hate to admit that you have no idea what they are referring to. I hope that our discussion of Natural Environment Training (NET) used in the application of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) will assist you in furthering your understanding of terms and strategies used by both parents and practitioners before you need an OTC to control the migraine you might feel coming on.

Natural Environment Training (NET) focuses on the immediate interests of the learner in their typical daily environment to assist in the development of verbal behavior. By allowing a learner’s interests to guide the training session, they have more manding (requesting) opportunities, exhibit less inappropriate behavior, and participate in more spontaneous verbal behavior (“Natural Environment Training”, 2015). Parents and practitioners can use NET at opportune moments throughout the day in the natural environment. It allows the learner’s play and interests to guide the instruction and establishes the parent or practitioner as a reinforcer (LeBlanc, Esch, Sidener & Firth, 2006). Check out the following example.  

I am currently working with a learner who preferred to guide you to his favorite toy or activity instead of communicating his desires with vocal mands or signs. However, through observations of him and conversations with his parents, it was noted that the learner could use both vocal mands and signs when motivated enough. If the learner was unable to get his parent’s attention, he would spontaneously mand both vocally and with signs. In order to increase the learner’s use of spontaneous mands, the Treatment Team (Patterns staff and learner’s family) identified toys and activities that were highly preferred. For example, the learner loved to be thrown into ball pits or soft comfy couches or flipped over backwards (with adult assistance of course). Once these activities started, the learner would try to climb up the adult without manding vocally or with signs. Instead of allowing this behavior to continue, the Treatment Team would physically prompt the learner to use the sign while demonstrating the appropriate vocal mand for “I want.” If the learner tried to grab an arm or climb up the adult, they would place him back on the ground and repeat the phrase “What do you want?” The adult then assisted the learner with manding “I want up” with a vocal model and a sign. Then the learner would be tossed onto the comfy couch or any other soft, desirable surface. Before long, it was observed that the child was spontaneously manding “I want” for activities, toys, and foods that were not targeted in the initial sessions. Through multiple observations, the Treatment Team was able to infer that generalization had occurred across multiple people, items, and settings.

By incorporating yourself into your learner’s most preferred things, you increase the likelihood that your learner will engage in the desired behavior to gain access to those preferred things. So, the next time you are tempted to shout because you have heard the “Finger Family” song for the 100th time or your legs are burning from jumping on the trampoline for the last hour, remember that you are just assisting your learner in completing their “ABA homework” while becoming a beloved reinforcer. How many parents or teachers get to say that?


Crystal Johnson, MS Psychology


Central Texas Autism Center. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2015 from

LeBlanc, L. A., Esch, J., Sidener, T. M., & Firth, A. M. (2006). Behavioral language interventions for learnerren with autism: Comparing applied verbal behavior and naturalistic teaching approaches. The analysis of verbal behavior, 22(1), 49.