Often times when parents are at our therapy clinic, they observe the natural environment teaching (NET) part of the ABA session which takes place in a large playroom. When they observe the therapist working with the child, they often make comments that it appears as if the therapist and child are just playing together. While it is good that the session appears playful and the child is enjoying the experience there is, in fact, a teaching session going on. It is also something that parents can introduce at home during regular play sessions. Since it appears less aversive to the child compared to other discrete training trials (DTT) carried out at a table, this teaching format is also less likely to be met with escape-maintained problem behaviors.
Let’s start by looking at what skills we are trying to cover during this “play session”. We are looking to use the toys and interact with the child in a way that allows us to work through the current verbal behavior goals already set in place. The first verbal operant we usually work on is the mand, which is when the child makes a request for something he/she wants (i.e. “ball”, “cookie”, “up”). This is obviously important because it shows the child how to make appropriate requests that get their needs/wants met. Another skill, imitation, is just how it sounds, we want the child to imitate a physical action that we perform. This can include gross motor actions (clapping hands, knocking, waving) or other actions involving the hands, arms, fingers or objects. Another category of language targeted during these NET sessions is the echoic. The echoic is very similar to imitation except we want the child to imitate a vocal word or sound that we say. With a receptive skill, we want the child to perform an action that we request. This is also known as following directions. This can include simple directions to sit down, stand up, or come here or more complex 2-3 step directions. The tact is another verbal operant targeted during the NET session which includes the child labeling an item or some property of the item (feature, function, or class). Finally, for an intraverbal skill, we want the child to give a response to a fill in phrase or a specific “wh” question without any visual prompt provided. This can include filling in words from songs or answering personal questions.
The idea is to allow the child to navigate the environment and for the therapist to follow his/her motivation. A playroom or area with multiple toys offers the most motivation within one area. This allows you to work on all the verbal operants at a fast pace without having to change location.
Let’s look at how to run through all the verbal operants with something as simple as a toy phone. The child could start by manding (requesting) for the phone (the child says “phone”). For imitation, you could say “do this”, put the phone to your ear and have the child imitate that action. For an echoic, you could say “ring ring” and have the child echo the sound a phone makes. For a receptive skill, you could say “touch the ___ button”, and have the child touch a specific button on the phone. For a tact (label), you could point to a specific number or button and say “what is it?” For an intraverbal skill, you could count the numbers “1, 2, 3, ___”, and have the child fill in the next number.
We always want to use something the child is showing interest in and move fluidly through each verbal operant seamlessly, so it appears as nothing more than a play session.
Do you have questions about how to work through these skills during your play sessions at home? Leave a comment below or contact Behavioral Consulting of Tampa Bay at 813-814-2000.