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Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism Natural Environment Teaching

A local autism center incorporates a different style of therapy to help kids with the disorder.
JOPLIN, MO.--- A local autism center incorporates a different style of therapy to help kids with the disorder. The Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism began to incorporate Natural Environment Teaching or NET therapy. Center leaders say NET therapy allows them to structure therapy based on the child and what they want to do, in their natural environment. Savanna, 5, began attending the Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism about a month ago.

"She was having a little bit of trouble following directions. She didn't want to sit in a chair. When demands were placed, there was a lot of aggression and self-injurous behavior," said Erin Phipps, Special Education Teacher. 

Savanna was the first student who fully began using a different type of therapy. It's called Natural Environment Teaching or NET therapy.

"Rather than going in a stark environment with a structured teaching method, we pair ourselves with reinforcement from the beginning in a natural environment," said Kristy Parker, Clinical Director of Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism. 

Clinical Director Kristy Parker says traditionally the center has used "Discrete Trial Training," which is a more structured teaching method.

"In NET, the world is your classroom, the teacher is thinking about the curriculum and making it portable and going with the child," said Parker. 

With NET therapy, Savanna gets to take the lead. Therapists target her interests with the skills she needs.

"You can structure the learning based on her and based on what she wants to do, opposed to forcing her to sit at a table or running the same program the same way everyday," said Phipps. 

Some of Savanna's interests are miniature animals and water, which she can now request.

"We can work on requesting more water or paintbrush, or something like that, so we can use what she enjoys to teach her the skills that we are targeting," said Phipps. 

NET therapy is aimed at early learners or children who have not traditionally done well with the more structured teaching method. In the past two months, it's been incorporated into learning for several kids.

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