What is Naturalistic Intervention & How Does it Work?

Naturalistic intervention is a collection of practices including environmental arrangement, interaction techniques, and strategies based on applied behavior analysis principles. These practices are designed to encourage specific target behaviors based on learners’ interests by building more complex skills that are naturally reinforcing and appropriate to the interaction.

Why Use Naturalistic Intervention?

Naturalistic intervention can be used to help learners communicate or become more social. It can be useful with prelinguistic learners (i.e., learners who are not yet using formal language to communicate) as well as learners who formally communicate with words. Because naturalistic intervention is designed to be used in any setting and throughout the day, skills are more easily generalized.

Teachers, practitioners, team members, parents, and childcare providers may have difficulty responding to the communicative attempts of learners with ASD. Naturalistic intervention can help the learner use rich, learner-directed language within personal back-and-forth interactions. When this interaction occurs, behavior strategies can then be used to bring out the target behaviors.

Naturalistic intervention is implemented across the learner’s day and is placed within the learner’s daily routines and activities. Following training, a team of people, including school staff, families, and other community members (e.g., childcare providers), typically implement the naturalistic intervention. Activities into which naturalistic intervention is embedded can be learner-directed, routine, or planned. Data collection, both at baseline and throughout the intervention, is a must in evaluating the success of the intervention.

How can I target skills across the day if I’m not with my student all day?

A key feature of naturalistic intervention is to train people who are with the learner during the day to use techniques to bring out the skill. Adults who may need this training include related service providers, classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, childcare providers, and/or parents. Training can be done through a variety of methods; the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) brief on parent-implemented training may be helpful.

Other methods may include in-service training for school staff, regular written contact like email, coaching/mentoring programs, and/or modeling of the skills. The step-by-step directions in this module may be given to team members in order for them to learn the intervention. In addition, the teacher, practitioner, or team member can help arrange environments in such a way as to bring out the target behavior.

How can I take data on the intervention, when it happens all day, everywhere?

One important consideration in data collection is finding a system that is manageable for you. This may mean that you have multiple data collection sheets that are easily accessible around the room/school. Another idea is to video record some parts of the day and goes back to collect the data. Still another option is to have other team members watch the interaction and take data for you. Taking data online by yourself can be challenging, but with proper preparation and materials, it can certainly be done!

Another thing to remember is that one does not need to take data all day, every day. Rather, taking data one day per week, or one week per month, is often a very appropriate way to track the progress of an individual student.

I have students who are included in general education classrooms and I can’t ask the teacher to rearrange her whole room in order to manipulate the environment. Do I have to do this in order to do the intervention?

A teacher shouldn’t have to change her whole classroom. However, some minor changes may make it more likely that she can bring out the target behavior. For example, if the target behavior is to increase interactions with peers, she may make a new rule that computer play during free choice is a two-person activity, thus allowing an opportunity for the student with ASD to ask a peer to play on the computer with him.

If the target behavior is for the student to use words to request, she may have one person in the group be in charge of the markers, another person in the group in charge of the glue, etc. This way, all students will need to use words to request supplies each time they are needed.

How do I know if naturalistic intervention is appropriate for my student? He does well with table work, but should I be doing more?

If you are concerned with the generalization of skills and have a team that is willing to cooperate with a naturalistic intervention, then naturalistic intervention may be a good choice. Even if parents are able to minimally participate in the intervention, working on target skills throughout the school day and across environments may result in the learner’s ability to use the skills more naturally.

In addition, naturalistic intervention does not need to replace traditional one-on-one teaching (discrete trial training (DTT), for example), but can be used alongside it. For example, a student may work on number concepts through DTT for 30 minutes each morning, and then spend the rest of the day in a naturalistic intervention program focusing on language skills.

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