In this blog, we will cover

  • What Natural Environment Training is

  • How to set up your home for success in playtime and routines

  • Promoting communication within playtime and daily routines

  • Promoting language development within play


What is Natural Environment Training?

Natural Environment Training integrates the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) into the natural environment or a learner’s everyday routines and activities so that the acquired skills may be more easily generalized. It is an evidence-based practice for children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) from 0 -11 years old that can be implemented in multiple settings. It focuses on following the child’s lead, integrating into already occurring routines and activities with naturally occurring reinforcers.


Setting up your home for success

Setting up your home for successful communication during playtime and routines has three parts, and don’t worry, they’re easy! 


The first part is setting up a defined space. By doing activities in a spot familiar to your child, you can provide more learning opportunities, reduce challenging behaviors your child may display, and increase engagement. 


The second part is limiting distractions. Before playing or starting a routine, move items that might interrupt the activity from the area. 


Part three is simple; it’s toys! Identify toys that are appropriate for your child and that they enjoy playing with. Separate toys into different boxes and bins so they stay organized, and rotate them every week or month depending on what your child seems comfortable with. 


Promoting communication during playtime and daily routines

Children with autism spectrum disorder often have difficulty communicating what they want or need, even if it’s right in front of them. To promote communication and turn that communication into a habit, we have five recommendations. These recommendations are not meant to stop your child from getting the things they want but enforce the communication, verbal or non-verbal, of wanting or needing them. 


Identify preferred objects, items, or food and place them in sight but out of reach to create opportunities to communicate and request. This can be as simple as putting their favorite cereal on a shelf they can’t reach and having your child point to it if they want it.


Use materials that require assistance. Give your child an item that requires adult assistance to play with or open. An example of this is giving them a sealed non-breakable jar with their favorite food in it and allowing them to request your help.

Use materials that facilitate eye contact. Any materials placed at eye level help increase eye contact, such as bubbles.


Instead of providing your child with an entire portion of an item, give a small amount and wait for your child to communicate and request more.


Provide only part of an item or part of the materials needed for an activity and wait for your child to communicate the missing items. 


Promoting language development within play

We have four strategies to share with you to promote language within play. 

The first strategy is the +1 law. Adjust your language to speak at a slightly more advanced level than your child’s current level. Examples: If your child is nonverbal, talk to him in one or two-word phrases. If your child can use one or two- word phrases, then use a complete sentence. If your child can use a whole sentence but is not entirely correct, then provide clear and grammatically correct sentences. 


The second strategy is using visual cues. Use gestures to model what you are saying or reflect on the activity you are engaged in. Examples: Make the sound “moo” when in front of a toy cow or a puzzle piece of a cow. When saying “come here,” use gestures towards yourself.


Using repetition and intonation is the third strategy. You can focus on specific words you want to work on, such as animals, colors, sounds, preferred food items, etc., repeat simple phrases that can become part of the routine, and emphasize words your child is currently learning. Examples: If your child can request with one word, then emphasize a second word such as “RED ball .”Repeat phrases such as “here come the tickles” every time you play tickles or “ready, set go!” every time you push a car down a ramp. 


The last strategy is avoiding questions. Focus on making comments rather than questioning to maintain compliance and interest in the activity. Examples: say “blue car” rather than asking, “what color is it.” 

Always remember that every child is unique, and some of these strategies are going to do the trick, and some of them are going to flop. Use what works for your child, and don’t force the ones your child doesn’t respond to. And most importantly, remember that creating the habit of communication and language takes time. You aren’t going to do one of these recommendations once you suddenly have a child that communicates flawlessly. Be patient, and it will come.

About the Authors

Apara Autism Center is a leading provider of ABA therapy in Texas to children ages 18 months and up. We understand the difficulty of dealing with uncertainty and are prepared to assist you with our collaborative developmental therapy support. If you’re looking for ABA therapy near you, we have centers in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and surrounding areas. Apara Autism Center employs a team of Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT) that can assist you with resources to help comfort your child during stressful times. We include parent training as collaborative support for the whole family. If you need more information, don’t hesitate to call (844) 272-7223 or contact us at with your questions or to enroll. We accept most insurance plans and offer full and part time programs as well as in-home therapy options with no waitlist.