Naturalistic Intervention: Changing Behaviors in the Learner’s Regular Setting

Naturalistic intervention (NI) is a set of practices, techniques, and strategies designed to bring out a target behavior. This is done in the learner’s normal environment while following their daily routines, hence the term “naturalistic.” It is based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

Naturalistic Intervention for Learners with Communication and Socialization Concerns

NI is useful for learners with communication and socialization concerns. Communication and socialization skills are acquired as the learner interacts with people in their day-to-day lives. Practices include environmental arrangement, interaction techniques, and strategies. 

If the target behavior is to increase social interaction, teachers can implement a buddy system during playtime. The teacher can assign a partner for each student so that each one has someone to play with. Pairings can be changed every day so that each child can get to know everyone in the class. 

The intervention plan is designed to address specific target behaviors based on the learner’s interests. The learners build more complex skills that are naturally reinforcing and appropriate to the interaction. In the case of the child needing more social interaction, initially assigning partners, and prompting them to interact with each other, if done regularly, can encourage the child to initiate conversations with other kids in the class.

Interventions are useful for learners who are in the pre-linguistic stage. These are the learners that have not yet learned how to talk or use formal language to communicate. Children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) might also benefit from naturalistic intervention.

Because intervention strategies are implemented throughout a learner’s usual daily schedule and routine, the techniques are easily applied and adapted. Skills taught can be easily generalized because this intervention strategy can be used anytime throughout the day.  

How Does it Work?

Intervention strategies are implemented throughout the learner’s regular schedule, and not just in the classroom or clinical setting. Learners are taught techniques as they go about their daily routines. Teachers, school staff, and primary caregivers are trained to implement the intervention for the child. They reinforce the target behavior as they see the learner exhibit it.

Some Challenges

Implementation might be challenging because the learner’s immediate circle—teachers, parents, therapist, and other school staff—need to be oriented about the intervention strategy. They need to go through a brief training process, which can take some time. It might even be difficult to set a schedule for a training session!

The team has to document the learner’s behavior at all times. Various documentation methods can be utilized, such as distributing multiple copies of data collection sheets to teachers, school staff, and other concerned individuals. 

You don’t have to collect data every time you’re with the learner. Weekly documentation throughout the intervention period might be enough to track the child’s progress.


Keep in mind that the intervention is for one target behavior—you are not looking to change the child’s overall behavior. When the target behavior is observed, you can proceed with other types of behavior (if needed).  The strategies to be deployed are meant to address one behavior, and if it’s done well, it can be generalized.