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Teaching Verbal Behavior in the Natural Environment

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1 Teaching Verbal Behavior in the Natural Environment
Amy McGinnis POAC of PA April 2, 2006 NET

2 What is Natural Environment Teaching (NET)?
NET is unstructured and uses a learner’s motivation and activities and not a teacher selected set of materials as the basis for the lesson.

3 NET Characteristics Learner initiated choice of activities (motivation is naturally strong) Tasks and activities vary frequently The preferred items and activities chosen by the child serve as the basis for the teacher/learner interaction Reinforcement is direct and specific to the activity Loose structure and many examples of concepts support generalization of language

4 Understanding the Difference Between NET & ITT
Natural Environment Teaching Talking about reinforcing activities Occurs in the context of fun activities Use reinforcing items and materials that are of interest to the learner to teach skills Intensive Teaching Responding to earn an unrelated reinforcer Often occurs at a table, but can occur in any setting Often use flash cards, but incorporates other materials as needed to teach skills

5 Why NET? Despite the successes of behavioral approaches in teaching language, the development of generalized and functional communication repertoires in children with autism has been disappointing (Fay & Schuler, 1980)

6 What has led to these disappointing results?
Many behavioral practitioners have failed to use Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior to guide their language teaching programs and/or incorporate NET into the program (Laski et al, 1988)

7 Getting Started: Pairing
Pairing is an essential first step that must take place before any type of teaching can begin in any environment

8 Pairing Stimulus stimulus pairing is a process by which a neutral stimulus (person, place, activity, or object) becomes a conditioned reinforcer. Pairing is important because it teaches the child to associate his/her therapists, therapy area, and therapy materials with good things. It is important for the child to want to be around his/her therapists in order to learn from them!

9 How do I pair? Identify as many reinforcers as possible
(Potential Reinforcer Profile) Have a large supply and wide variety of reinforcing items to give to the child Approach the child and deliver reinforcement non-contingently. You should give the child things that he/she likes for “free.” The child does not need to request or “earn” the reinforcers in any way.

10 How do I pair? 4. Maximize the number of times that you provide reinforcement Break edible reinforcers into small pieces so you can hand them to the child more frequently Deliver multiple reinforcers at once (TV, food, toys, sensory stimulation, etc.) Try to deliver reinforcers several times per minute

11 How do I pair? 5. Talk to the child, but do not expect him/her to talk back. 6. Follow the child’s changing interests. If the child becomes bored with a reinforcer, find another reinforcer.

12 How do I pair? 7. Actively manipulate the environment and interact with the child so that you are required for maximum enjoyment of the activity   Examples: Child is on swing – therapist pushes child Child is thirsty – therapist fills child’s cup a tiny bit at a time Child wants to go outside – therapist unlocks door    

13 Pairing the Environment
Pair across settings Pair across stimuli Pair across activities

14 Common Pairing Mistakes
Placing demands on the child. Resist the urge to try to “teach” the child by asking questions or making the child “work” for reinforcers. It is necessary to first build rapport with the child before teaching. Pairing may feel slow, but you should not rush through it. Time spent pairing is time well spent!

15 Common Pairing Mistakes
2. Lack of active interaction with the child. Pairing is an active process on the part of the therapist. The therapist must constantly be giving reinforcers to the child. Pairing will not be effective if the therapist just sits in the room while the child does his/her own thing. The therapist must continually act as the “giver” and the child should function as the “taker.”

16 Common Pairing Mistakes
3. Infrequent or weak reinforcement. If strong reinforcers are not given frequently, the pairing will be less effective. Find as many opportunities to reinforce the child as possible (several per minute).

17 Determining if Pairing Has Been Effective
Questions to ask: Does the child run to you or away from you? Does the child follow you when you leave the room? Once the child is frequently and willingly approaching you to obtain reinforcement, you are ready to begin teaching verbal behavior in the natural environment

18 Developing Functional Communication
There are many functions or categories of expressive language and therefore many meanings to the words we say The meaning of a word is defined by its function or category, not by its grammar or syntax

19 Developing a Verbal Behavior Repertoire
Many children with autism do not have verbal behavior repertoires that include responses in each of the categories for the same word (topography). This happens because the categories are functionally independent and the responses (words) may not transfer across the categories without explicit training. For example, being able to mand juice by saying “juice” does not guarantee that the same child will be able to tact (label) juice when they see it and there is no MO (motivation) for it.

20 The Importance of Knowing and Following the Learner’s Motivation
Incorporating Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior and the manipulation of establishing operations (Michael,1982, 1993, 2001) to the elements of natural environment teaching will enhance the effectiveness of NET

21 Teach all the “Meanings”
JUICE Mand Tact Echoic/mimetic Intraverbal Receptive RFFC Textual

22 Mand The verbal response of requesting (i.e. “I want juice.”)
Teaching someone to mand items, activities, or objects will lead to a higher rate of talking and will support the development of the other classes of verbal responses (i.e. tacts, intraverbals, etc.)

23 Mimetic (Motor Imitation)
The ability to imitate or do what others do during play or other activities is an important skill to acquire During NET it will be important to teach this skill (i.e. teacher demonstrates how to play with toys appropriately)

24 Echoic (Vocal Imitation)
Vocally imitating what others say is an important skill that leads to increased vocal verbal behavior During NET the teacher will provide a vocal model for the learner so that certain sounds and words become paired with reinforcement and can then be reinforced directly when the learner repeats them

25 Tact The verbal response that is closest to labeling (i.e. “That’s a red ball.”) When a learner says or signs what he sees, hears, touches, tastes, smells, etc., he is tacting. The reinforcement for this response is not specific to what is said and is usually social reinforcement of some type such as acknowledgement of what is said or praise

Teaching Tacts ECHOIC TO TACT TRANSFER: Therapist: “What’s this? Juice.”(Verbal SD & 0-sec. delay prompt) Learner: “Juice” (echoic) IMMEDIATE TRANSFER TRIAL: Therapist: “What’s this?” Learner: “Juice.” Therapist reinforces

27 Intraverbal The verbal response to someone else’s verbal response (i.e. When someone asks what you had for breakfast, “I had juice” is an intraverbal) This class includes answering “wh” questions and filling in the blanks (i.e. “Twinkle, twinkle little __” Intraverbal skills are essential to carrying on a conversation

28 Teaching Intraverbals
ECHOIC TO IV TRANSFER: Therapist: “Ready, set…go.”(Verbal SD & 0-sec. delay prompt) Learner: “Go.” (echoic) IMMEDIATE TRANSFER TRIAL: Therapist: “Ready, set, __.” Learner: “Go.” (Intraverbal) Therapist reinforces

29 Teaching Intraverbals
TACT TO IV TRANSFER: Therapist: “Something you drink is __.”(Verbal SD & tact stimulus) Learner: “Juice.” (tact) IMMEDIATE TRANSFER TRIAL: Therapist: “What do you drink?” (removes juice from sight) Learner: “Juice.” (Intraverbal) Therapist reinforces

30 Receptive The receptive response class refers to understanding what someone else says During NET this might include delivering requests to: Perform actions: “Stand up” (receptive commands) Identify an object by touching it or giving it to the teacher “Give me the red ball” (receptive ID)

Teaching Receptive MIMETIC TO RECEPTIVE TRANSFER: Therapist: “Touch juice.” (Verbal SD & mimetic prompt) Learner: touches juice (mimetic) IMMEDIATE TRANSFER TRIAL: Therapist: “Show me the juice.” Learner: (touches juice) (Receptive ID) Therapist reinforces

32 Receptive by Feature, Function & Class (RFFC)
In addition, it is sometimes useful to ask the learner to respond receptively to the description of something (i.e. “give me the beverage,” rather than, “give me the juice.”) RFFC – “Touch the one you drink.” TFFC – “Which one do you drink?” (item present) IFFC – “What do you drink?” (no item present)

33 Early Learner Profile Limited basic skills. Weak echoic
Almost no formal mands Few receptive responses outside of the context Few tacts and intraverbals.

34 Early Learner NET Require very little responding and pair yourself with reinforcers. Have child take reinforcers from you. Gradually increase response requirement. Begin errorless teaching of mands with full prompts and then fade prompts. Intersperse a few instructional demands for relevant to the reinforcer

35 Intermediate Learner Profile
Several mands (some spontaneous) Many tacts Some receptive Some RFFC, TFFC Simple intraverbals.

36 Intermediate Learner NET
Teach within the context of the activities that are reinforcing and motivating for the child. Teach mands, simple tacts, receptive, TFFC and simple intraverbals. Many of these responses will be multiply controlled, e.g. part or mostly mand. Begin the VB module in this environment.

37 Advanced Learner Profile
Many spontaneous mands Manding for information Complex tacts TFFC and intraverbals (answering “wh” questions).

38 Advanced Learner NET Teach within the context of the reinforcing or motivational activities of the child. Complex VB modules that are conversations within non-verbal contexts. These modules include answers to "wh" questions as well as manding for information, e.g. asking "wh" questions. Have similar but less complex conversations in the intensive teaching settings.

39 NET Lesson Plans Planning NET sessions in advance prepares the teacher to teach and generalize targeted skills while following the child’s It is often necessary to customize lesson plans to follow each child’s unique MO & teach target skills

40 Step 1: Potential Reinforcer Profile
Look at the learner’s reinforcer profile to get some ideas regarding what s/he might enjoy doing in the NET.

41 Step 2: Brainstorming Activity Ideas
Select one reinforcing item/activity from the list. Try to brainstorm as many creative and fun things possible to do with that item/activity. Example: Water play

42 Step 2: Brainstorming Activity Ideas
Mix food dye with water to create different colors Filling squirt bottle with water and squirting paper or other target taped vertically on the wall Play with wind-up pool toys in bathtub or sink Create “ocean in a bottle” by placing small boat or fish toys in bottle filled with water Create sparkle water bottles by mixing food dye, glitter, and water in bottle, then shaking bottle for visual effect Play with sponges Play with funnels, cups, watering can Bring snow/ice inside house to play with, sculpt, etc. Add soap into basin of water. Use eggbeater to make bubbles.

43 Step 4: Incorporate Targets into Activity
Determine which behaviors you will target What will you do/say? What will the learner do/say?

44 Natural Environment Teaching Lesson Plan
Reinforcing Activity Type of skill What teacher will say or do Child’s Response/ Skills to be taught

45 Continue to Create Novel Activities
Continually generating novel activities helps to keep the learner engaged and creates new teaching opportunities Examples: Water + balloons = water balloons Water + music = fill glasses with water to produce different tones when struck with a spoon Water + vehicles = playing car wash

46 For more info: Visit for:
Information on our free workshops Information on our fee-based professional workshops Visit for: Potential Reinforcer Profile NET data sheets & potential target lists Workshop information Visit for: Sample NET lesson plans & data sheets

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