Teaching Children with Autism, continued

Teaching Children with Autism, continued

I am going to introduce you to some new language which I think will be useful for you to know, but some of it (in my opinion) is pretty close to jargon, so you will have to pay close attention. In most of the older ABA literature, people referred to two common teaching models/venues used in an ABA program: Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) and Natural Environment Teaching (NET): DTT involves the instructor and student working together at a table, using a series of discrete Antecedent-Behaviour-Consequence “teaching/learning trials,” while NET, also known as “incidental teaching” (although, personally, I would prefer to reserve the term “incidental teaching” for teaching that is incidental to your stated goals), in contrast, occurs wherever opportunity presents itself, i.e., it is conducted in the child’s natural environment rather than in a more formal teaching setting, making use of the child’s immediate interests and activities in that environment. NET, as a result, is where parents can really shine!

Recently, however, it has been suggested that a better distinction would be between Intensive Trial Teaching (ITT) and Natural Environment Teaching (NET), rather than between DTT and NET, at least partly because the teaching trials in NET are also discrete, i.e., each teaching/learning trial has a beginning and an end.

In this new way of looking at things, ITT involves the instructor and student working together at a table, often using as many as sixteen-to-twenty-five discrete Antecedent-Behaviour-Consequence “teaching/learning trials” per minute – hence the “intensive” part of ITT – and, in the beginning at least (unless you are teaching “requesting” (in which case the reinforcement is getting what has been requested), the reinforcement is most often arbitrary (in the sense of being unrelated to what is being learned), i.e., whatever consequence works to strengthen the behaviour being taught, such as a piece of cookie for learning to say “book” when shown a book and asked “What is it?”

Natural Environment Teaching (NET), in contrast, uses the same kind of discrete Antecedent-Behaviour-Consequence “teaching/learning trials” as ITT but the reinforcement, rather than being arbitrary, is the learner’s motivation-of-the-moment. In this way of thinking about NET, “environment” does not refer to location but, rather, to the fact that the reinforcement is natural rather than arbitrary, i.e., the teaching occurs within the “environment” of natural rather than arbitrary reinforcement.

Holly Kibbe and Cherish Twigg, in a workshop presented by Establishing Operations Inc., have also recommended that the relative amounts of ITT and NET be based on whether the learner is a beginner, an intermediate learner, or an advanced learner: NET should be the main teaching venue for both beginning and advanced learners (where interpersonal engagement is crucial to program goals) and that ITT be the main teaching venue only for intermediate learners (where the vast bulk of intermediate language-acquisition goals need to be taught).

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