What Is Incidental Teaching In ABA Therapy?

Incidental teaching is a technique used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy that involves teaching skills in a naturalistic setting.

Ruben Kesherim
June 22, 2023

What Is Incidental Teaching In ABA Therapy?

What Is Incidental Teaching?

Incidental teaching is a technique used in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy that involves teaching skills in a naturalistic setting. In this approach, the therapist takes advantage of everyday situations to teach the child new skills.

The goal is to help the child generalize the skills they learn in therapy to real-life situations.

What Is Incidental Teaching?

Incidental teaching is based on the principles of ABA therapy, which is a scientifically-validated approach to treating autism and other developmental disorders.

ABA therapy is focused on changing behavior by reinforcing positive behaviors and reducing negative behaviors. The therapy is highly individualized, and the techniques used are tailored to each child's specific needs.

In incidental teaching, the therapist sets up situations in which the child is motivated to learn a new skill. For example, if the child is playing with a toy car, the therapist may initiate a conversation about the car and use the opportunity to teach the child new vocabulary words.

The therapist may also prompt the child to ask for help or to use a specific language structure.

The key to incidental teaching is to make the learning experience fun and engaging for the child. The therapist should use positive reinforcement, such as praise or a small reward, to encourage the child to engage in the learning activity.

The therapist should also be flexible and willing to follow the child's lead, adapting the teaching to the child's interests and abilities.

Incidental teaching has been shown to be an effective technique for teaching a wide range of skills, including language, social skills, and self-help skills. Research has also shown that incidental teaching can be more effective than traditional teaching methods, such as direct instruction.

One of the benefits of incidental teaching is that it can be easily incorporated into a child's daily routine. The child can learn new skills while engaging in activities that they enjoy, such as playing with toys or interacting with others.

This can make the therapy experience more enjoyable for the child and can help to reduce the stress and anxiety that can be associated with traditional therapy methods.

Examples of Incidental Teaching

Incidental teaching is a versatile technique that can be used in a variety of settings. Here are some examples:

At home

Parents can use incidental teaching to help their child learn new skills at home. For example, during mealtime, the parent can prompt the child to request food using a specific language structure or practice turn-taking by having a conversation with the child. When playing with toys, parents can initiate conversations about the toys and teach new vocabulary words.

In the classroom

Teachers can use incidental teaching to reinforce skills that are being taught in the classroom. For instance, if students are learning about animals, the teacher may have toy animals available for playtime and use opportunities during play to teach new facts about each animal. Additionally, teachers might initiate conversations with students while they work on individual projects or assignments.

In community settings

Incidental teaching can also be used in community settings such as grocery stores or parks. A therapist may take advantage of an opportunity when a child is interested in an object at a store or park and use it as an opportunity to teach them something new.

For example, if a child is interested in birds, the therapist might ask questions about what they know already and then provide more information about birds.

These are just some examples of how incidental teaching can be applied in different settings to help children learn new skills while having fun at the same time.

Using Positive Reinforcement In Incidental Teaching

Positive reinforcement is a crucial aspect of incidental teaching. It involves rewarding the child for engaging in the desired behavior, which increases the likelihood that they will repeat that behavior in the future. Here are some strategies for using positive reinforcement effectively in incidental teaching:

1. Use natural reinforcers

Natural reinforcers are things that the child naturally enjoys or finds rewarding. For example, if a child loves playing with trains, the therapist can use train play to teach new skills and reinforce positive behaviors. By using natural reinforcers, the learning experience becomes more enjoyable for the child and can increase their motivation to learn.

2. Vary your reinforcement

Variety is key when it comes to positive reinforcement. Using the same reward repeatedly can cause it to lose its effectiveness over time. It's important to mix things up by offering different types of rewards, such as verbal praise, high-fives or small treats like stickers or toys.

3. Reinforce effort and progress

It's important to reinforce not only successful outcomes but also effort and progress towards learning goals. For example, if a child is struggling with a task but tries hard anyway, they should be praised for their effort rather than just focusing on whether or not they completed it correctly.

4. Timing is everything

Timing is crucial when it comes to positive reinforcement. The reward should be given immediately after the desired behavior occurs so that the child associates the behavior with the reward. Delaying reinforcement can reduce its effectiveness.

5. Be consistent

Consistency is essential in building new habits and behaviors. Reinforcement should be consistently applied every time a desired behavior occurs until it becomes a habit.

By following these strategies, therapists and parents can maximize the effectiveness of positive reinforcement in incidental teaching and help children develop new skills while enjoying themselves at the same time!

The Role of Parents and Caregivers

Parents and caregivers play an important role in supporting their child's progress with incidental teaching. While therapists can provide guidance during therapy sessions, it is essential that parents and caregivers continue to reinforce the skills at home and in other settings.

One way that parents can support incidental teaching goals outside of therapy sessions is by creating opportunities for their child to practice the new skills they learn in therapy.

For example, if a child is learning new vocabulary words related to animals, the parent can take them to the zoo or watch nature documentaries together, encouraging them to use their newly acquired language skills.

Another way for parents and caregivers to support incidental teaching goals is by modeling positive behaviors themselves.

Children learn by watching those around them, so if parents consistently model appropriate social behavior or language structures, children are more likely to adopt these behaviors themselves.

In addition to modeling positive behaviors, parents can also use natural reinforcers at home to encourage their child's progress with incidental teaching goals.

For instance, if a child is learning self-help skills like dressing themselves independently, parents can offer verbal praise every time they see their child making progress towards this goal.

It's also important for parents and caregivers to communicate regularly with their child's therapist about what they are working on in therapy sessions. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page and that there is consistency between therapy sessions and home life.

By actively participating in their child's learning experience through incidental teaching, parents and caregivers can help reinforce positive behaviors while providing a nurturing environment for children to grow and develop new skills.


In conclusion, incidental teaching is a valuable technique in ABA therapy that can help children with autism and other developmental disorders to learn new skills in a naturalistic setting.

By taking advantage of everyday situations, therapists can help children to generalize the skills they learn in therapy to real-life situations. With its focus on positive reinforcement and individualized teaching, incidental teaching is an effective and enjoyable way to help children reach their full potential.

Similar Articles