What is ABA? Natural Environment Training

I’ve been working as a therapist for a little over a month now and I am absolutely in love.  After seeing the same kids a few times you really start to understand their personality, what they like to do and how the programs you run with them really contribute to improving their life.  Before working at CARD, my experience with children was largely limited to typically developing populations in camp and home settings.  I have always loved working with children and adolescents because it is fun to become a kid again and help them grow while also being their friend.  When I first decided to work as a therapist at CARD, I thought I would have to loose a lot of that friendliness in exchange for a more professional appearance.  On the contrary, I have realized that it is much more professional when you can bond with the child, understand how they communicate, and from there, realize how to better connect them with the outside world, and develop their skills.

As discussed in my previous blog, sometimes Discrete Trail Training is just not enough, because it is so structured and not always the best for generalization.  Sundberg and Partington created a model called Natural Environment Training (NET) that has the goal of increasing the child’s requests through natural as well as contrived situations.  NET is also used to transfer other skills to a more natural setting.  For example, a skill such as colors might be first taught at a table or on the ground using the strict 10-trial program, but will slowly be generalized to questions about the color of mommy’s purse or the flowers in the backyard, as the opportunities would naturally arise.  Natural Environment Intervention strategies could also be compared to how children are taught skills in the classroom (such as addition), but when they are able to apply this knowledge to the outside world (like buying food at the store by adding up their money), you know the skill has truly improved their life.

The goal of any ABA therapist is to help improve the life of the child they work with and their family using the principles of behavior analysis.  By using NET, these real life applications are addressed.  Throughout this past month I have learned that as you get to know a child better, you are more equipped for NET because you know what generalized skills the child could really use and are able to use reinforcers that you understand are the child’s favorite to create these effective changes and improvements in their life.  Such skills as answering the phone when it rings, asking for the child’s favorite movie when they want to watch it, and responding appropriately to a sibling make life for the child and the family a whole lot easier.

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