For most children, summer is a time for playing in the sun and learning through play. The fun times had in the sun with other children are key to children’s development of social, emotional, physical, and intellectual growth. As typically developing children play they tend to spontaneously learn skills from one another and from the active experimentation of play itself.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) also need this key learning but may struggle to spontaneously gain skills through play. They tend not to naturally imitate other children, and thus, miss important learning experiences. In addition, children with ASD tend to become highly absorbed in a smaller set of interests and play in more restricted and repetitive ways. Both tendencies can cause children with ASD to fall further behind in their development by missing summer play time.
For children with ASD, Natural Environment Teaching (NET) is a great way to use the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to enhance skill acquisition during the summer. NET uses everyday normal experiences and parts of your child’s environment to teach skills. NET is an ideal program for Early Intervention (EI) for ASD and related disorders that utilizes your child’s natural motivations and interests to drive play and transfer of learning across contexts. In NET, skills are broken down, practiced, and skill acquisition is improved, just as with other forms of ABA used for EI; however, programming is fluid and learner-driven.
For parents and care providers less accustomed to the use of ABA principles in NET, this active learning can appear less organized. Not so! This type of programming requires a high focus on pairing the ABA therapist with the child’s access to reinforcers in the environment. Pairing increases the child’s focus on the therapist as the environment and activities change but access to what meets their needs and preferences is always gained through therapeutic interactions.
In addition, errorless learning can be used to shape behaviors while providing a maximum amount of recognition for the effective behaviors demonstrated. This makes the process of learning itself more pleasant. With NET, therapists often rely on slight alterations of normative responses to children’s requests. For example, an ABA therapist may use ‘time delay’ as a technique to increase the child’s tendency to verbally request what they would like. To use time delay, the therapist would pay attention to what the child shows interest in and delay offering the item to the child until it is requested. If delaying a prompt for a behavior does not elicit the intended behavior the therapist may attempt ‘mand modeling’ where they demonstrate appropriate request behaviors.
A skilled ABA therapist can use these procedures, and others, to create highly valuable social and emotional learning that gives your child the ability to request their needs be met. For more on Early Intervention (EI) and getting your child to learn optimally while enjoying their summer environment contact us at verbalbeginnings.com.
By Angela Cathey, M.A. & Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D, President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC