What is Natural Environment Teaching (NET) in ABA Therapy?

There is always more to learn about applied behavior analysis (ABA), and there is not a finite structure for an ABA therapy session. Each child on the autism spectrum has distinct abilities and needs, therefore ABA therapy can be adapted to fit in many different settings for individuals of all ages. This means that ABA therapy can be provided in clinics, homes, hospitals, private practices, schools, or even out and about in the community. NET, or Natural Environment Teaching, is a method of providing ABA therapy in a ‘natural environment’ or out in a ‘real-life’ setting, as opposed to a more formal, clinical setting.

What exactly is NET?
NET is frequently used with individuals who are on the autism spectrum, as a way to help with generalization skills. Generalization is when a child is able to apply the skills that they learn in one setting to other settings, even new or unfamiliar environments. This is especially important because a child may learn to self-regulate their emotions in school, however school is not the only setting in which this is important. They will also need to self-regulate their emotions at home, at the grocery store, and so on. By successfully generalizing this skill, they will be able to carry this skill wherever they go.

What kind of skills does NET teach?
Natural Environment Teaching can help children with autism spectrum disorder to acquire new skills that are pivotal in development, such as language and socialization. An ABA therapist might use NET to keep the child engaged during therapy, as it often incorporates the child’s high interest areas. While NET is not necessarily structured as play, using the child’s interests in ABA therapy can help them to build rapport. One of the key principles of NET is using the motivation of the child (by incorporating interest areas) to learn new socially significant skills.

There is a potential for NET to be more difficult to implement than other ABA therapy strategies, as the setting is usually more informal and less structured. In order for NET to be successful, it is also important for the therapist to be in control of when the child receives reinforcements (to encourage positive behaviors). However, it’s best to have a reinforcer that highly motivates the child, in order to ensure progress throughout NET. The goal is for the child to pair (or associate) the therapist with the positive reinforcements.


Are you interested in ABA services for your child in the Chicago area? Contact us or call (773) 630-4400 to learn more about the range of services we provide for children who are on the autism spectrum at Chicago ABA Therapy, including applied behavior analysis therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology.