Naturalistic behavioral strategies are forms of discrete-trial teaching in which the child’s own motives or behavior initiate the instruction and lead to a reinforcing event (“natural reinforcer”). These approaches are more child-centered than massed trial teaching, in that children’s motivations, interests, favored activities, and choices figure strongly in the teaching. Two examples of naturalistic strategies are pivotal response training and incidental teaching.
Incidental teaching consists of a chain of prespecified child-tutor interactions. The interactions involve materials that are highly preferred by the child, prompting and shaping techniques embedded in natural contexts, and child-initiated (“natural”) interactions. Incidental teaching has been demonstrated, with replication, to be an effective technique for increasing language learning in both typical children (Hart and Risley, 1975) and in children with autism (McGee et al., 1983, 1999).
In pivotal response training (Koegel et al., 1999), certain behaviors are seen as central to wide areas of functioning. Changing these pivotal behaviors is thought to change other associated behaviors without specifically targeting the associated behaviors. Pivotal response techniques include child choice, reinforcement, and correcting behaviors.
Peer-mediated strategies (e.g., Strain and Kohler, 1998) also demonstrate a naturalistic application of behavioral teaching. The typical peers of a child with an autistic spectrum disorder are instructed in a more adult-centered, mass-trial approach, while children with autistic spectrum disorders are taught by their peers in a more child-centered, naturalistic type of approach.
These strategies may include aversive approaches, functional analysis, differential reinforcement of other behaviors, extinction, antecedent manipulation, and combinations of these strategies (Dunlap et al., 1994. Aversive approaches involve administration of an aversive stimulus, or punisher, which, according to behavioral terminology, is an event to which a person responds by escaping or avoiding the stimulus. When an aversive stimulus is used as a consequence in the antecedent-behavior-consequence chain, the frequency of the behavior decreases over time. Mildly aversive approaches are commonly used with all children (e.g., saying “no”), but most strategies aimed at decreasing the frequency of unwanted behaviors currently emphasize the use of positive reinforcement strategies, which reward a child for performing more appropriate behaviors in place of the unwanted behaviors. In order to plan an effective intervention, one needs to know what current reinforcing consequences (both positive and negative reinforcers) are maintaining the unwanted behavior. This requires a functional analysis of behavior.