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The Benefits of Incidental Teaching in Autism

6-year-old Ben was playing with his favorite dinosaur toy when his mom tried to take it away. She was sure he would be unhappy about it, but suddenly, an idea popped into her head – what if she used his love for this toy to refine his skills? This is called incidental teaching.

In the realm of effective autism education, few methods hold as much promise as incidental teaching, which is effectively using your child’s interest in the learning experience. In this article, we’ll explore all its benefits, implementation strategies, and possible challenges so you can help unlock your child’s potential on the spectrum.

The Benefits of Incidental Teaching in Autism

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What is Incidental Teaching in Autism?

Incidental teaching is a methodology that uses principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to provide a structured way of teaching in a naturally occurring situation. This method uses the child’s interests to motivate cooperation. The child’s interests or toys are used as reinforcers, which the therapist or caregiver immediately provides when the child delivers a desired response.

This same procedure can be applied at home if the proper training is offered. A recent study shows that even caregivers with limited experience in behavior analysis can successfully apply incidental teaching after training. 

Benefits of Incidental Teaching

Incidental teaching is based on the principle that teaching should be formulated using natural techniques. It is designed to help children with language and communication delays, including children on the autism spectrum, learn in a conducive and safe environment.

Research shows that when a child is taught in a natural environment, such as during play and meal time, as opposed to a structured classroom setup, they are much more engaged and responsive.

Incidental teaching proved highly effective, with benefits in various settings, such as schools, homes, and therapy sessions, achieved through spontaneous learning. Here are some of the key benefits of this method.

Tailored Learning

Incidental teaching allows educators and caregivers to tailor instructions to the specific needs and interests of the learner. This personalized approach can lead to more effective learning outcomes.    

Enhancing Communication and Social Skills

Effective communication and social skills are crucial in a child’s development. Incidental teaching promotes communication development by encouraging meaningful interactions. It provides opportunities for practicing communication, turn-taking, and problem-solving.

Empowering Independence

One of the most important goals of autism education is to promote independence. Incidental teaching uses learning opportunities within the child’s daily routines, empowering them to take initiative and make choices. This boosts their self-esteem and cultivates essential life skills.

Implementing Incidental Teaching

Implementing incidental teaching involves creating a structured and supportive environment that allows a natural and spontaneous learning experience. With the right preparation, this approach can be used in various educational and therapeutic settings.

Creating an Enriched Environment

The environment plays an important role in incidental teaching for autism. It should be rich in stimuli adapted to your child’s interests and needs. Ensure the environment involves strategically placed educational materials or toys related to your child’s passions, stimulating curiosity and encouraging exploration.

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Seizing Natural Opportunities

Incidental teaching is based on setting everyday opportunities for learning. Parents and educators can identify situations where the child shows curiosity or initiates interactions. Capitalizing these moments will enable you to introduce learning objectives that align with your child’s developmental goals.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the cornerstone of effective teaching for children on the autism spectrum. In incidental teaching, encouragement is crucial. Providing your child with immediate and genuine feedback will create a sense of accomplishment and motivate them to engage in further learning experiences.

Incidental Teaching According to the Walden Toddler Model

The Walden Toddler Model is a program founded in the U.S. that offers structured early intervention through a home and center-based structure. It utilizes the incidental teaching approach to blend learning into the routine of families of autistic children, concurrently working with the early childhood center.

The incidental teaching curriculum offered by the Walden Toddler Model includes comprehensive training for skills acquisition for toddlers, such as verbal expressive language, social responsiveness to adults, social tolerance/imitation of peers, and independence in daily living.

The home-based program is set up so that a family liaison works cooperatively with the autistic child from their home whilst also providing training to the parents. 

According to research, children with autism who have undergone incidental teaching have shown an increased ability to transfer what has been taught into new settings and build social interactions. 


Incidental teaching is a powerful method that empowers children with autism to learn and thrive in environments that cater to their unique interests and needs. By recognizing teaching opportunities in everyday life, caregivers and educators can make a lasting positive impact on a child’s development.


Q: How is incidental teaching for autism different from traditional teaching methods?

A: Unlike traditional teaching methods that follow a structured curriculum, autism incidental teaching is child-centered and follows the child’s lead. It capitalizes on the child’s interests and incorporates learning into daily activities.

Q: Can incidental teaching for autism be adapted for different age groups?

A: Yes, incidental teaching can be adapted for various age groups. The most important thing is tailoring the activities and interactions based on the child’s developmental stage and interests.

Q: What are some common challenges caregivers might face while implementing this approach?

A: Caregivers might face challenges identifying the child’s interests, maintaining flexibility, and finding suitable learning opportunities. With patience and practice, these challenges are easy to overcome.

Q: Are there any resources or support networks for parents interested in incidental teaching for autism?

A: Yes, there are numerous online resources, forums, and communities where parents and caregivers share their experiences and insights on incidental teaching for autistic children. They offer support and guidance that can be very helpful.

Q: Can incidental teaching be combined with other therapeutic approaches for children on the autism spectrum?

A: Absolutely. Incidental teaching can complement other therapeutic approaches for autism, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and speech therapy, creating an effective intervention plan.

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