A Crash Course in Naturalistic Teaching Strategies


Along with Discrete Trial Teaching, Naturalistic Teaching Strategies (NATS) is amongst the most widely utilized strategies in a well rounded ABA program. NATS involves using the child’s current interests and activities to guide instruction.

Below are several components of Naturalistic Teaching Strategies that make it unique to each child:

  1. Unstructured: unlike DTT which is typically done in a more rigid manner, NATS are largely unstructured and “loose”

  2. NATS can be conducted in the child’s daily environments such as home, school, or in other community locations

  3. You can mix it up! NATS can be used to teach a variety of instructions, questions and responses, which makes each session different

  4. The rewards are specific to the child’s current motivation. This also means that to keep you NATS session going,  it is of the utmost importance that you recognize when the child may want a different item

There are several things we want to increase in Naturalistic Teaching Strategies which are important to keep in mind:

1.     Goal is to increase:

a.     Natural antecedents before behaviors
b.     Appropriate responding (e.g. appropriate manding, intraverbal behavior, tacting, etc.)
c.     The people and settings involved: You want your client to be able to perform their skills with a variety of individuals in a multitude of places! This makes for more well-rounded communication and works to avoids rote verbal behavior
d.     Motivation to learn: We want NATS to be FUN! Motivation is a key component of NATS. Without it, you will not achieve a high number of independent responses from your client
e.     Independent use of new behaviors in novel settings

How do you run a NATS session? The first key is to be aware of when your client wants something. Once they are engaged in a behavior, such as reaching towards an item or pointing, you can use that moment to require your client to engage in a target response such as a mand or echoic response, depending on your client’s programming needs. You can create these opportunities by placing things out of reach, only giving them part of an item, by placing things in a container they need assistance to open, or by implementing a time delay, such as pausing before opening a cabinet. Be proactive about setting up your environment in a manner which requires assistance in order to get items, and avoid giving away items for free. By doing so, your client will have an increased number of opportunities to work on their communication skills or other target skills in their natural environment.

NATS are often more difficult for people to understand because they are innately less structured. This is a skill set that requires a high degree of attention to your client and to their indications that they want or need something.

If you’re struggling to find opportunities for this form of teaching, ask your Behavior Supervisor or Case Manager for additional modeling of this skill. Asking the right questions is of benefit to both you and your client, and your NATS sessions will be more effective (and fun!) for everyone involved.

Jaclyn Colvin, M.Ed., BCBA
Associate Clinical Director,
Tuesday, April 16, 2019