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Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Intervention (NDBI) is a research-based system for increasing skills of children who have delays in speech-language-communication. NDBIs target all aspects of communication, so children are learning to use their skills for all the social reasons we communicate, while at the same time they are learning more words and longer sentences.

NDBI programs have been proven to work, through research at major universities. Each program is different in how their methods are organized and presented, but they all share the features that give the approach its name.


Naturalistic means teaching happens in typical daily interactions. Children with delayed communication have trouble noticing and using the natural cues that happen during interactions. They need help to focus on what’s important, extra practice with the skills, and more feedback from adults to get the most out of these learning opportunities.

A huge advantage of naturalistic methods is their efficient use of time. Children with delays don’t automatically transfer their new skills to situations they haven’t practiced. By teaching skills in their natural settings, we don’t need to teach skills separately and then have extra lessons to teach them in real life settings. We don’t need to set aside separate time for practicing communication skills, because we can do it while it is a natural part of daily activities.

Naturalistic methods are taught to parents so they can provide focused learning opportunities all through the day. New skills can transfer to useful places without needing to wait for lessons that come later (or might be left out). These parent-friendly methods are easily learned, and strengthen the bond between parents and their children.


Developmental means following the typical patterns of how children learn and develop. We know that children with speech delay, autism, Down syndrome, and other developmental disorders follow the typical sequence of development but at a different rate. We use that same typical sequence of skills to choose our teaching targets.

Some skills have been shown to be the foundation for all speech, language, conversation, and social skills. We start our therapy with these skills to make sure the foundation is strong. For older children who are using words, we may need emphasize teaching these skills to make sure they can use their words effectively. These core skills include:

  • Joint attention: looking at the same thing another person is looking at

  • Imitation: doing what someone else is doing

  • Social engagement: taking part in a back-and-forth exchange with another person

  • Active learning: independently trying out experiences to see what happens, and using thinking skills to figure out how things work

  • Social relationships: understanding our own feelings and those of others, and communicating for a wide variety of reasons

Teaching these foundation skills builds the positive relationship between parents and children. These foundation skills expand the variety of activities parents and children can do together to build enjoyment of their shared times. This positive relationship is where children learn to use communication for the full range of human interaction.

With developmental intervention, we emphasize these foundation skills because they are essential for learning at all later stages of communication. As children develop their communication skills, we continue to incorporate these key skills as we teach more advanced skills in the developmental sequence of gestures, single words, word combinations, sentences, conversation and storytelling.


Behavioral means using the well-established principles of learning that describe how skills (behaviors) can be increased or decreased depending upon what happens right before the behavior and how we respond to the behavior right afterward. These rules of learning are also called behavior modification or operant conditioning. Behavioral principles are important tools for teaching any skill.

When we use naturalistic teaching in daily interactions, it’s important to keep these principles of learning in mind. Using them helps learning go faster and avoids accidentally teaching unwanted skills (like tantrums or refusing).

Things we do to get a child to use a skill are called antecedents, meaning they come right before the target skill. These might be things like a cue (showing or giving an object) or prompt (giving a direction, pointing). Things we do to increase or decrease a skill are called consequents, meaning they come right after a child uses the skill.

We need to be careful observers of our own and children’s behaviors. When we are consistent with our antecedents and consequents, children learn the new skill faster. When we monitor how we respond to behaviors, we can avoid teaching the wrong behavior.


Intervention means a collection of methods and procedures that are used in a systematic way to improve the performance of a person. You might say intervention is a fancy way to say therapy.

When we say Naturalistic Developmental Behavioral Intervention, we mean that we use the theory and research-based methods from developmental and behavioral sciences and apply them with families in natural settings to speed up communication development in children.





Joyce is very knowledgeable. Not only as a speech therapist but also on how the school system works. Which is very helpful going through the IEP process. She was able to engage with my daughter and was never hesitant to help in any way. I would definitely recommend Joyce to anyone that is looking for a trustworthy, caring and informed speech therapist.

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