Incidental Teaching for Students with High-Functioning Autism

“Incidental teaching” is an interaction between an adult and a child that occurs in a natural situation or setting that can be used to give the child an opportunity to practice a skill. Many practitioners of Applied Behavior Analysis believe that Incidental Teaching can be used as a primary teaching approach for children with autism in lieu of Discrete Test teaching when discrete tests are unsuccessful or challenging.

The advantages of using the Incidental Teaching method:

* Skills can be learned faster because they have meaning for the learner (function and purpose).

* The student is exposed to various methods of stimulation and reinforcement.

* Teaching takes place in a natural environment and no additional materials are needed.

* Using this technique helps teachers improve their skills and “think on the go.”

The disadvantages of using the Incidental Teaching method are:

* The teacher may not have the skills to recognize a “teachable moment” or have the ability to capture and manipulate student motivation to create a teachable moment.

* The teacher must have full knowledge of the current abilities of the student

* The student must have the necessary skills to benefit from the Incidental Teaching (including attention skills and the ability to accept different types of directions).

The procedures used in the Incidental Teaching method are important. A natural environment should be arranged to attract the learner to the desired material (devise an opportunity).

Depending on the student, the layout of the environment can be minimal or extensive. The student guides the session by her own interests or motivation in a topic, object or activity. At this point, the teacher uses whatever the student has shown interest in teaching or elaborates on an already known skill. For example, if a young child shows an interest in pushing a toy car back and forth, the teacher might teach him to develop this skill by showing him a ramp and how to push the car up and over the ramp.

There are several prerequisites for learners that are needed for incidental teaching:

* Attention

* Ability to follow basic instructions

* Ability to respond to many different methods of goading

* Well-developed imitation skills

* Appropriate tolerance for frustration and acceptance of delayed gratification

* Interest in many different environmental stimuli

Incidental teaching can be used to teach functional communication skills. Here are some tips and suggestions to make communication easier:

Tips for teaching commenting skills:

* Pretends to call you or hurt you slightly (Say “owww”)

* Say something that is incorrect and request the correction. For example, eat a cookie and say “This is a good apple.”

* An illicit compliment: Say “I just got a haircut” or “This is a new shirt.”

* Illegal inquiries: Say “I feel bad today” or “I have a new toy in my bag.”

* Have many people comment on an activity everyone is playing or a meal everyone is eating (modelling).

Tips for teaching how to properly escape/avoid an undesirable activity:

* Putting an unwanted or undesirable item in front of or with the student.

* Offering unwanted or undesirable food to the student.

Tips for Teaching Information Requests:

* Present the learner with partial information needed to complete a task or gain access to a desired reinforcer/object

* Present important information very quietly so the student can barely hear you and needs you to repeat the information

With creativity and flexibility, educators can incorporate incidental teaching into a rich and successful learning environment.

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