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Natural Environment Teaching 

Natural Environment Teaching (NET) is at the very heart of all that we do. This means that your child's motivation is crucial to the teaching process. This will help create a willing learner. Many people are surprised to find that even with the most unmotivated of learners, there are ways of effectively teaching new skills, engaging them and reducing or eliminating problem behaviours. All this means that your child will start to enjoy interacting with others, engaging with play items and become increasingly interested in all the things that you want to teach them. Successfully implementing NET will also mean that holidays, weekends and evenings will become infinitely more enjoyable and rewarding for your child and your whole family.

Natural Environment Teaching can be described as teaching which is related to and occurs in an environment that your learner is motivated by. NET involves teaching your child in each and every situation you experience throughout the day, from the time you wake to the time you go to bed.


Here’s a quick look at NET which shows how teaching to your child’s motivation is fun for everyone.

If you are including NET as part of an existing Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) programme, then your child’s environment should already be ‘sanitised’. If you are new to ABA, sanitising simply means putting your child's most interesting and motivating items away.


Sanitising the environment involves:

  • Collecting up your child’s favourite toys and storing them in boxes(preferably clear bins so that they can see what is inside).

  • Putting this box out of reach of your child. This sets the environment up for your child to perceive you as the “giver of good things”. When your child wants a fun activity and you are the one to get it for them, they begin to associate you with those preferred items and they see that interacting with you is infinitely better than solitary play.


This means that the less motivating items and things your child can do independently can be used when your child is playing alone. Their favourite toys should be reserved for the specific teaching times with your child. If your child’s favourite toys are readily available throughout the day and whenever he or she wants them, your presence and involvement is not as important to your child.

Sanitising the environment is a way of showing your child that interacting with you and engaging in play activities together is really the most fun option. You will already have an idea of what, in each room, is of interest to your learner and the likely activities you are going to be engaging in together. Use this prior knowledge to your advantage and make sure that whatever it is your child is interested in actually involves you.

A word of warning though: Sanitising the environment without the guidance of a trained behaviour analyst can be counterproductive, resulting in increased tantrums and playing with “strange” items. Our team will work closely with you to teach you exactly what to do, given your child’s particular skill set and your unique family situation. Implementing a programme for your child in conjunction with a sanitised environment, will ensure maximum success.


Outside of the home and classroom you have less control over what the environment ‘throws’ at you, although you can still decide which places and people to visit and how long to spend with them. In fact, the most important thing to remember about NET is that you are not at the mercy of the environment; it is not the setting that determines what you teach - it is your child’s interest in that setting.

We will work closely with you to find creative ways of ‘contriving’ situations, both in home and out, that will motivate your child throughout the day – and with practice you will learn to make any situation a NET opportunity.

Motivation is never static; it is constantly moving and changing in accordance with two governing principles: satiation (I’ve had it a lot.) and deprivation (I haven't had it for a while).

People with a diagnosis of autism often display repetitive behaviour patterns, but this does not mean they are only motivated by that activity. Chances are they are interested in all sorts of things but just lack the behavioural skills and language to express those other motivations.

As your child’s teacher you will learn to identify the behavioural signs in your child that indicate motivation - these could include increased eye contact, jumping or reaching for something - and these will present you with many opportunities for new learning experiences. The wider the range the more chances for teaching. Toy cars could lead to matching by shape, dolls to social role play, music to motor skills/singing, pens to labelling colours. It is your job as the teacher to make the most of your child’s naturally occurring motivations by coupling them with fun and educational activities. 

It is worth noting that the way you introduce these new items and activities plays a big role.You need to learn to read your child’s motivation. Play with new items and talk about what you are doing but be careful not to request that your child join in, just be alongside and see if they take an interest of their own accord, this way you will know they truly are motivated and not just following your instruction. Helping you identify and react to your child’s unique behavioural patterns in regards to motivation is something we focus on whenever doing NET as part of a programme.

There is virtually no limit to what can be taught if a learner is genuinely motivated to be a part of the teaching process. This is something we all learnt at school when, for whatever reason, we hated some lessons but loved others. The learner’s motivation is the driving force behind any ABA/VB programme – and NET means that anything can become a motivating force to help your child overcome challenges and learn new skills and behaviours.

Some practical tips on teaching motivation:

  • Don’t satiate: Keep items up and away, so your child doesn’t have access to them all the time. Rotate through your items according to motivation. As soon as you see signs that they are beginning to lose interest, switch activities to keep motivation levels high. Don't play with items until your learner has ‘had enough’ - move on to another activity before your child gets to that point.

  • Use foresight: Learn your child's behavioural signs of motivation, so you can be one step ahead in presenting them with items they enjoy.

  • Get creative: Think of different ways to use items - a book can become a ramp for cars, a hat or a building block. Show your child many different ways to use items.

  • Have fun: This should be enjoyable for everyone. Use items, activities and physical play.

Sanitising the Environment: Preparing For Success
Working Outside of the Home and Classroom
Working To Motivation
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