Incidental Teaching, also known as naturalistic teaching, is a treatment method implemented for behavior intervention for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. McGee, Morrier, and Daly described incidental training as, “A teaching technique that utilizes behavior approaches; naturally occurring teaching opportunities are provided based on the child’s interests. Following the child’s lead, attempts to communicate are reinforced as these attempts get closer to the desired communication behavior” (as cited in ASHA, 1999). Incidental teaching is supported as a treatment approach by the American Speech and Language Association.
There have been various well-designed meta-analysis studies and randomized controlled studies conducted, supporting the effectiveness. When looking at how the evidence is sought out the population, intervention, comparison, and outcome all come into play. Many of the articles I reviewed, studied individuals with autism spectrum disorder using the incidental teaching intervention. The individuals with autism were looked at in comparison with typically developing same aged peers. Outcomes showed that the use of incidental teaching increased the targeted population’s functional communication during unprompted opportunities. After researching, I believe that incidental teaching is categorized as a level one according to ASHA’s levels of evidence based practice. decided level one was appropriate due to the amount of support by ASHA, the number of systematic reviews, and the effective outcomes.
Incidental Teaching is arranged by initiating a desired response from an individual, the teacher waits for the student’s response and provides reinforcement if the desired behavior is met. When picking the target goal, the teacher should observe and plan what language goals should be targeted. By observing the individual you can see how they use their language to access their desired wants and needs.
You can observe what toys they are interested in and what language they use to initiate their desired request; do they point to the item, do they reach for the item, do they use attention seeking behaviors? These observations allow you to focus in on what skills/language you should target. It is common to start with WH questions (“What do you want?”) and yes/no questions (“Do you want the car?”). When using incidental teaching, it’s important to keep the desired materials out of reach, that way the individual is required to initiate the request for the items using the targeted phrase. When the individual uses the targeted phrase, they are reinforced by receiving their desired request.
This increases the likelihood of generalization, knowing that they are receiving a desired item in response. Using incidental teaching can also help increase the use of longer phrases and MLU. It provides the teacher to start with something simple like teaching the phrase “I want” and then increasing the phrase to, “I want the toy”. By teaching the skills in an arranged environment they can be learned and then carried over into naturalistic environments, increasing peer and social-interaction.
One peer-reviewed journal studied the use of incidental teaching and stimulus fading to promote age-appropriate social phrases by preschoolers with autism (McGee & Daly, 2007). Three boys with autism and four typical developing boys were studied. The use of social phrases and tabletop activities were used to collect the data. Outcomes showed that the individuals with autism were able to acquire social phrases during conditions when prompts and reinforcers were available (McGee & Daly, 2007).
Another peer-reviewed journal studied the use of incidental teaching with the use of peer tutors to increase reciprocal interactions with three children with autism (McGee et al, 1992). Incidental teaching was used during free play and the children were prompted to say the name of the toy that they wanted. For example, if the student with autism was reaching for the car, the peer would ask them to name the toy. Whenever the toy was labeled the peer would then praise the student and give them the desired toy. Results showed an overall increase in reciprocal interactions during free play (McGee et al, 1992).
I currently use incidental teaching with one of my students with autism. Prior to incidental teaching he would point or grab the desired item instead of using an “I want” phrase or responding with “yes” or “no”. First I started with yes/no responses, I used his favorite snack and his least favorite snack with the use of visual yes/no picture cards. I would prompt him by saying, “Do you want a goldfish?”, and when he responded with “yes” he received the goldfish. For additional prompting, I would point to the “yes” picture card. I then targeted an “I want” phrase. I started prompting by using visual and verbal uses, I would point to my eye and say “I” and then I would point to my mouth and say “want”, then I should show him the desired item.
Whenever he repeated the phrase, he received the toy. After both phrases were generalized, I modified the target response to and he is now prompted to say, “I want a goldfish.” He now initiates the “I want phrase” and responds to yes/no questions throughout our sessions, his teacher also reported that he has carried over the responses and uses them in the classroom. I will continue to use incidental teaching throughout my clinical practice, it had proven success and increased functional communication.