Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Expanding ABA Intervention in Intensive Programs for Children with Autism: The Inclusion of Natural Environment Training and Fluency Based Instruction

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Expanding ABA Intervention in Intensive Programs for Children with Autism: The Inclusion of Natural Environment Training and Fluency Based Instruction

Article excerpt

ABA has documented effectiveness for learners with autism. Over the past 15 years, the effectiveness of early intensive behavioral intervention has been empirically validated. Many of these ABA programs have utilized an impressive array of ABA technology, while some programs have relied heavily on the use of discrete trial instruction. Recently, the model of Natural Environment Training has been discussed as an important expansion of these programs. In addition, the utility of Fluency Based Instruction for learners with autism has been highlighted. These two ABA approaches have much to offer students with autism. Their inclusion in educational programming may enhance the effectiveness of instructional efforts.


There is substantial research documenting the effectiveness of ABA intervention for children with autism (e.g. Birnbrauer & Leach, 1993; Lovaas, 1987; Maurice, 1993; McEachin, Smith, & Lovaas, 1993; Perry, Cohen, & DeCarlo, 1995). Research has indicated that one of the most significant elements is intensity. Intensity is generally defined as 30 to 40 hours per week of intervention. Other elements of intensity include a rich ratio of teacher to student attention and maximizing learning opportunities.

Some new directions for children with autism within ABA involve incorporating broader applications of ABA to build comprehensive programs. Many students with autism have been receiving educational programs that rely heavily on the use of discrete trial training (DTT). Discrete trial training uses repetition of learning opportunities to build skills (Lovaas, 1981; Lovaas, Koegel, Simmons, & Long, 1973; Smith, 1993). Some of the components of discrete trial training that have been documented to be effective include errorless learning (e.g., Etzel & LeBlanc, 1979; Lancioni & Smeets, 1986; Terrace, 1963; Touchette & Howard, 1984), and task variation and interspersal (e.g., Dunlap, 1984; Mace, Hock, Lalli, West, Belfiore, Pinter, & Brown, 1988; Winterling, Dunlap, & O'Neill, 1987; Zarcone, Iwata, Hughes, & Vollmer, 1993).

While this methodology is extremely effective in building skills in these learners, the addition and integration of several other approaches may further enhance instructional outcomes.


Sundberg & Partington (1998) have outlined an educational program based on the principles of Verbal Behavior. Skinner's (1957) classifications of verbal behavior have tremendous curricular implications for individuals with autism. Autism involves deficits in many of the areas outlined by Skinner. The deficit in manding may be the most obvious and longstanding. Most students with autism present with significant deficits in spontaneity. Even with intervention, these deficits also persist. Sundberg & Partington's emphasis on mand training, in particular, adds a unique and extremely important focus for students with autism.

Sundberg & Partington have developed the method of Natural Environment Training (NET). This model capitalizes on establishing operations to build spontaneity. Specifically, the instructor assesses what the learner is motivated by at that particular moment in time. The instructor targets requesting (manding) as the initial skill. The learner's skills in requesting are built through the constant processes of capturing and contriving establishing operations. The learner's spontaneous mands are counted and increased. The instructor serves as an agent of reinforcement, which builds rapport. Gradually, demands are faded into the instructional context and small delays in the receipt of desired items are implemented. In this way, the instructional context begins to include instructor demands as well as learner requests.

Natural Environment Training is similar to the Natural Language Paradigm (NLP) and to Pivotal Response Training, which both emphasized the use of intrinsically motivating materials, teaching in natural contexts, and focusing on the child's immediate interests to guide language instruction (Koegel, O'Dell, & Koegel, 1987; Laski, Charlop, & Schreibman, 1988). …

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