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What is Incidental Teaching?

As children develop language there are many ways the adults in their environment can help support and promote this. One technique we use in ABA is called incidental teaching. You may have also heard the term “naturalistic teaching”. Incidental teaching is a method of increasing communication by waiting for the child to initiate conversation and then helping them to expand on their language. It happens in the same environment that we would want the child to use this language naturally. For example, if a child is learning to request for food, the incidental teaching might occur while in the kitchen at lunch or during snack time.


In our last blog, we talked about motivation and why it is critical for learning. Motivation is especially critical with incidental teaching as children are likely to initiate in order to gain access to something they want, whether this is a tangible item or your attention.


These are the steps of incidental teaching:


1) Ensure your environment is set up with motivating items that are perhaps in sight but out of reach. Follow your child’s lead.

2) Wait for the child to reach for or initiate for the item.

3) Prompt the correct response for the child.

4) Allow the child an opportunity to give you the correct response or an approximation.

5) Reinforce the response or approximation by providing them with the item or activity they have requested.


Here are two examples:


1) The child is playing in the toy room and reaches for a block needed to complete their tower

2) The parent (who has access to the block) prompts “give block”

3) The child repeats “give block”

4) The parents give the child the block reinforcing their request and provides social praise “good job asking for block!”


1) The child is eating snack in the kitchen and begins to whine and gesture toward goldfish crackers

2) The parent (who has access to the crackers) prompts “cracker”

3) The child repeats “cra”

4) The parent gives the child the cracker reinforcing the child’s request and provides social praise while also modeling the full word again “yes cracker”!


*In this example, once the child is consistently saying “cra” the parent should expect a more complex response such as the full word “cracker”. We will talk more about this in our upcoming blog on shaping.

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