Description: Incidental teaching is used to increase communication from a person by waiting for the person to initiate conversation about a topic and then responding in ways that encourage more language from that person (Hart & Risley, 1968). For example, a child might request “want car.” The teacher might then ask the child whether he wants the blue car or the red one. The learner would then receive the car if he demonstrated more elaborate language by asking for the red one.

Research Summary: Incidental teaching procedures have been shown to be effective in increasing language in individuals with autism. For example, studies have shown increases specifically in the use of vocal communication in the following areas: peer interactions, polite/positive language, and spontaneous requests and comments.

Recommendations: In combination with other teaching methods, incidental teaching procedures are effective teaching procedures for increasing communicative language in individuals with autism.


Systematic review of scientific studies:

Delprato, D. J. (2001). Comparisons of discrete-trial and normalized behavioral intervention for young children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 315-325.

Goldstein, H. (2002). Communication intervention for children with autism: A review of treatment efficacy. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32, 373-396.

Green, G. (2001). Behavior analytic instruction for learners with autism: Advances in stimulus control technology. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 16(2), 72-85.

Selected scientific studies:

Hart, B. M. & Risley, T. R. (1968). Establishing use of descriptive adjectives in the spontaneous speech of disadvantaged preschool children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 109-120.

For additional information:

Fenske, E., Krantz, P. J. & McClannahan, L. E., (2001). Incidental teaching: A non-discrete trial teaching procedure. In C. Maurice, G. Green & R. Foxx (Eds.), Making a difference: Behavioral intervention for autism (pp. 75-82). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

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