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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

Naturalistic Intervention in Applied Behavior Analysis

Naturalistic intervention is an intervention strategy that is based on behaviorism and principles of applied behavior analysis. In naturalistic intervention, these principles are applied throughout daily routines or activities to improve an individual’s skills or decrease maladaptive behaviors.

In applied behavior analysis services, naturalistic intervention may not be utilized as much as it should be. Commonly, applied behavior analysis is viewed as discrete trial training (intensive teaching trials often completed at a table or desk). Naturalistic intervention should be considered as a useful and effective strategy, as well.

When planning to use naturalistic intervention, observe the child in their typical daily routines and activities. Then, make note of specific routines or activities that the child struggles with. Consider the skills that the child may benefit from learning or what specific behavioral issues the child is displaying.

During naturalistic intervention, a child learns new skills in the context of common daily living activities. This is in contrast to discrete trial training which is more contrived and not typical of common everyday activities. In naturalistic intervention, generalization of skills to functional living skills is more easily obtained than in discrete trial training.

Examples of activities in which naturalistic intervention may be used include:

  • Mealtime
  • Snack time
  • Going to the bathroom
  • Getting ready to go play outside
  • Riding in a car
  • Play time
  • Morning routines
  • Academic activities (during class or homework)
  • Bedtime/Evening routine
  • Doing chores
  • And any other common activity

As with any applied behavior analysis intervention, positive reinforcement is a necessary component. In naturalistic intervention, positive reinforcement should be included in the context of the activity being focused on. A child’s preferred item or activity should be part of the intervention.

For example, if manding (requesting) is being targeted as a skill to improve, a child could request a preferred food item at snack time and then should be reinforced for manding by being given the specified food item.

An example for a child with a target skill of turn-taking with peers could be at a park. The child is reinforced for waiting their turn to go down a slide by allowing them to go down the slide when it is their turn.

Another target skill at a park could be to expand leisure activities (specifically, for the child to participate in more activities at the park). In this scenario, modeling could be used to teach the child to use the park activities.

Modeling and prompting are common applied behavior analysis (ABA) strategies used in naturalistic intervention. The prompt level needed will be individualized to the child.

It is important to include rapport building activities within the context of the identified daily routine or activity. Rapport building shouldn’t be a one-time thing. Rapport building should be a frequent focus. Rapport building should include commenting on what the child is doing, having a friendly tone of voice, being fun and engaging, and praising the child. Having good rapport with the child will increase the likelihood the child will be compliant with the new challenges he or she may be presented with during the targeted activities. The child will also be more likely to enjoy the activity.

It is more ideal to have the child willingly participate in a learning activity and enjoy the process rather than have them be forced through the process and have them be disinterested or even despise the activity.

Naturalistic intervention can be used to increase social skills, language and communication skills, requesting, joint attention, and decrease problematic behaviors.

In summary, when using naturalistic interventions, identify the target daily routines or activities, target behaviors or skills, take baseline data, collect data throughout intervention, and include behavioral principles such as modeling, prompting, and environmental arrangement strategies.

Naturalistic Intervention in Applied Behavior Analysis

APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2019). Naturalistic Intervention in Applied Behavior Analysis. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 18, 2019, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/child-therapist/2019/01/naturalistic-intervention-in-applied-behavior-analysis/