Question 8:
What is incidental teaching?

My Answer:
Incidental teaching is a precise procedure that builds off of discrete trial teaching and mand training. If you recall, discrete trial training is a potentially five-part unit of instruction consisting of:

  1. the discriminative stimulus (i.e., what the instructor says or does)
  2. a prompt (i.e., any help the instructor gives to the child)
  3. a response (i.e., what the child does)
  4. a consequence (i.e., whether or not the response is reinforced)
  5. an inter-trial pause (i.e., the few seconds before the next discriminative stimulus is presented).

Mand training is a potentially four-part unit of instruction consisting of:

  1. establishing operations (i.e., environment is created in which objects become valuable)
  2. a prompt (i.e., any help the instructor gives to the child)
  3. a behavior (i.e., what the child does)
  4. a consequence (i.e., whether or not the behavior is reinforced)

Incidental teaching is not the same as mand training. Incidental teaching can include mand training, discrete trial teaching, or both. In incidental teaching, mand training or discrete trial teaching are implemented in a specific way. That specific way is as follows:

  1. establishing operations (i.e., environment is created in which objects become valuable)
  2. child demonstrates interest by initiating an interaction

if the goal is to teach requesting then mand training procedures continue including:

  1. a prompt (i.e., any help the instructor gives to the child)
  2. a behavior (i.e., what the child does)
  3. a consequence (i.e., whether or not the behavior is reinforced)

if the goal is to teach a discriminative stimulus, then discrete trial training procedures continue including:

  1. the discriminative stimulus (i.e., what the instructor says or does)
  2. a prompt (i.e., any help the instructor gives to the child)
  3. a response (i.e., what the child does)
  4. a consequence (i.e., whether or not the response is reinforced)

*the reinforcement is related to the SD which is related to the interaction initiated by the child.

Here are two examples of incidental teaching:

  1. The instructor places a variety of toys around the room that the child may like and watches the child.
  2. The child reaches for the ball.

if the goal is to teach requesting then:

  1. The instructor holds up the ball and prompts, "What do you want?"
  2. The child says, "ball"
  3. The child is given the ball

if the goal is to teach a discriminative stimulus, then:

  1. The instructor delivers the SD, "Where is the ball?"
  2. The instructor prompts "on top"
  3. The child responds, "on top"
  4. The child is given the ball.

Incidental teaching is often contrasted with discrete trial teaching. The above analysis is meant to point out a couple factors worth considering. First, incidental teaching and discrete trial teaching are not polar opposites. In fact, incidental teaching often includes a form of discrete trial teaching.* Second, incidental teaching is not the same as mand training. In fact, mand training has successfully occurred without following a child's lead.** Finally, because they are not polar opposites, incidental teaching, discrete trial teaching, and mand training can be successfully integrated in a comprehensive program for children with autism. An important question to research is how much time should be devoted to each procedure. No doubt the answer will in part depend on the type of child who is learning and the type of skill to be taught.

*For example, see McGee, G. G., Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1985). The facilitative effects of incidental teaching on preposition use by autistic children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 18, 17-31. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=130798

**For example, see Jason Bourret, Timothy R. Vollmer, & John T. Rapp (2004). Evaluation of a vocal mand assessment and vocal mand training procedures. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37, 129-144. http://seab.envmed.rochester.edu/jaba/articles/2004/jaba-37-02-0129.pdf

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