developmental disabilities using incidental teaching

developmental disabilities using incidental teaching

Research Brief #5

Incidental Teaching

Incidental teaching is a teaching strategy first described by Hart and Risley (1968; 1982) in their work with economically disadvantaged children. Incidental teaching, as used by Hart and Risley, was designed to increase the amount and complexity of the language used in the children they worked with, and also to increase generalization and spontaneous use of language in these children. Hart and Risley (1982) described the steps of incidental teaching as follows: 1) Arrange the environment to contain items of interest for the child 2) wait for the child to initiate an interaction about an item of interest 3) ask for more elaborate language or approximations to speech and 4) provide the object for which the child initiated (Fenske, Krantz, & McClannahan, 2001). Incidental teaching has been a strategy of interest to educators working with children with autism, hoping it would address some of the problems with generalization and lack of spontaneity and initiation often seen in children with autism who have been primarily exposed to very structured, adult-directed teaching. McGee, Morrier and Daly (1999) describe the benefits of incidental teaching as “the advantages of a technical grounding in applied behavior analysis with the added benefit that accrues from delivering intervention in the context of regular…activities” (p. 138). Incidental teaching has been named as a primary teaching strategy in seven single-subject design studies of students with ASD and has been named as part of a multi-component intervention in two more studies. Three of the seven studies in which incidental teaching was the primary strategy modified the procedure to increase its effectiveness with children with autism (Charlop-Christy & Carpenter, 2000; McGee, Krantz, Mason, & McClannahan, 1983; Schepis et al., 1982). This group of studies has included 21 participants, both male and female, ranging in age from 3-21. All of the participants on the autism spectrum in these studies had autistic disorder; one participant in a multi-component incidental teaching study had both

autism and Down syndrome (Kroeger & Nelson, 2006). Incidental teaching has been studied in special education settings, in residential settings, in pull-out settings at school, and in the home environment. One study (Charlop-Christy & Carpenter, 2000) utilized parents as the intervention agents; the rest of the studies used clinicians, teachers, or residential staff. Hart and Risley conceived incidental teaching as a method for increasing the expressive oral language of disadvantaged preschoolers. Autism researchers have taken a broader approach with the strategy, using it not only for expressive oral language (Charlop-Christy & Carpenter, 2000; Farmer Dougan, 1994; Kroeger & Nelson, 2006; McGee, Almeida, Sulzer-Azaroff, & Feldman, 1992; McGee, Krantz, & McClannahan, 1985; Miranda Linne & Melin, 1992), but also to work on sign language (Schepis et al., 1982), receptive language (McGee et al., 1983) and reading words (McGee, Krantz, & McClannahan, 1986) Modifying the Strategy Several researchers have noted characteristics of autism that can potentially make incidental teaching a less effective strategy for this population. These characteristics can include lack of initiation (McGee et al., 1983; Schepis et al., 1982), displaying severe behavior problems when access to desired materials is limited (McGee et al., 1983), and the need for larger numbers of teaching opportunities (Charlop- Christy & Carpenter, 2000). To address these concerns, several studies have modified incidental teaching in an attempt to make it more effective for students with autism. Initiation: True incidental teaching relies on the student initiating a response, with the teacher then interrupting the initiation to prompt the target skill.

The reproduction of this document is encouraged. 3/15/07

This Research Brief is a publication of the Professional Development in Autism (PDA) Center, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. The PDA Center is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (H325G020003). Opinions expressed in this document are those of the PDA Center and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Education



However, as noted by McGee et al. (1983), children with autism often either do not initiate or initiate rarely. To address the problem of lack of initiation, two of the earliest studies on incidental teaching (McGee et al., 1983; Schepis et al., 1982), modified the incidental teaching procedure to compensate for this lack of initiation by prompting the participant in the presence of a target item. McGee et al. also used this modified technique to address the potential that the participants with autism would display severe problem behaviors if their access to desired materials was limited. Number of teaching trials: Children with autism often may require large numbers of teaching trials to learn a skill and as noted by Charlop-Christy and Carpenter (2000), it can be difficult with incidental teaching, which relies on naturally occurring opportunities, to get in the number of teaching trials that a child may need to learn a new skill. Charlop- Christy and Carpenter introduced a modification of incidental teaching designed to increase the efficacy of incidental teaching by increasing the number of teaching trials. In their study, they compared traditional incidental teaching, modified incidental teaching, and discrete trial in teaching target phrases. In their traditional incidental teaching procedure, the children received one naturally- occurring trial of the target response each day. In their modified version of incidental teaching, they increased the number of trials by identifying two naturally occurring situations for teaching the target skill and, for each of these two situations, they added two additional practice trials, increasing the total number of trials per day to six. They then compared this to the traditional incidental teaching procedure, and to discrete trial training where the children had 10 trials per day in a sit-down face-to- face session. Charlop-Christy and Carpenter found that, for their three boys with autism, none of the learners learned the target phrases within the five week treatment with traditional incidental teaching; two of the children acquired the target phrases but did not generalize the phrases with discrete trial training,; and that all three children both learned and generalized the phrases with their modified

incidental teaching. Prerequisite Skills Only one of the incidental teaching studies mentions any prerequisite skills required by the participants: this study (McGee et al., 1985), listed verbal imitation skills as a prerequisite skill for the students selected to learn expressive prepositions. Although not mentioned as a prerequisite in the other studies targeting oral expressive language (Charlop-Christy & Carpenter, 2000; Farmer Dougan, 1994; Kroeger & Nelson, 2006; McGee et al., 1992; McGee et al., 1985; Miranda Linne & Melin, 1992), the procedures in these studies suggest that all of the participants had verbal imitation abilities. McGee, Morrier, and Daly (1999) in their description of the Walden Toddler program, which utilizes incidental teaching, describe the use of vigorous speech shaping techniques during the incidental teaching in children who are not verbally imitating. An inherent prerequisite of incidental teaching as elaborated by Hart and Risley (1982) is displaying initiations; incidental teaching, as they describe it, always starts with the child initiating. Thus, this prerequisite can be assumed in the studies using incidental teaching in its pure form; as mentioned above, however, two studies (McGee et al., 1983; Schepis et al., 1982) overcame this prerequisite by prompting the participant if they did not initiate in the presence of the target item. Comparing Incidental Teaching to other teaching strategies Three studies have compared incidental to other teaching strategies in children with autism. One, noted above, compared traditional incidental teaching, modified incidental teaching, and discrete trial and found the best acquisition and generalization with a modified incidental teaching procedure (Charlop-Christy & Carpenter, 2000). McGee, Krantz, and McClannahan (1985)compared incidental teaching and traditional discrete trial in teaching in teaching three boys with autism



expressive preposition usage. They found that there was no significant difference in the acquisition or retention of prepositions taught with the two methods; traditional teaching resulted in slightly shorter teaching sessions. However, they found that incidental teaching promoted greater generalization and more spontaneous use of prepositions. Miranda- Linne and Melin (1992) compared incidental teaching to traditional discrete trial in teaching two boys with autism the expressive use of color adjectives. These researchers found that discrete trial was more efficient, producing faster acquisition. Discrete trial also initially produced greater generalization, but at follow-up probes a week later, it was found that the adjectives learned by incidental teaching were being retained and generalized more than those learned by discrete trial. One of the two children also used the adjectives learned through incidental teaching more spontaneously at follow- up; for the other child, no difference in spontaneous usage was seen.

REFERENCES Charlop-Christy, M. H., & Carpenter, M. H. (2000).

Modified incidental teaching sessions: A procedure for parents to increase spontaneous speech in their children with autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 2(2), 98-112.

Farmer Dougan, V. (1994). Increasing requests by adults with developmental disabilities using incidental teaching by peers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27(3), 533-544.

Fenske, E. C., Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (2001). Incidental teaching: A not-discrete-trial teaching procedure. In Maurice, Catherine (Ed); Green, Gina (Ed); et al (2001) Making a difference: Behavioral intervention for autism (pp. 75-82). Austin, TX: PRO-ED, Inc.

Hart, B., & 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.

Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1982). How to use incidental teaching for elaborating language. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Kroeger, K. A., & Nelson, W. M. (2006). A language programme to increase the verbal

production fo a child dually diagnosed with Down syndrome and autism. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 50, 101-108.

McGee, G. G., Almeida, M., Sulzer-Azaroff, B., & Feldman, R. S. (1992). Promoting reciprocal interactions via peer incidental teaching. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25(1), 117-126.

McGee, G. G., Krantz, P. J., Mason, D., & McClannahan, L. E. (1983). A modified incidental-teaching procedure for autistic youth: Acquisition and generalization of receptive object labels. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 16(3), 329-338.

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(1), 17- 31.

McGee, G. G., Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1986). An extension of incidental teaching procedures to reading instruction for autistic children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 19(2), 147-157.

McGee, G. G., Morrier, M. J., & Daly, T. (1999). An incidental teaching approach to early intervention for toddlers with autism. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 24(3), 133-146.

Miranda Linne, F., & Melin, L. (1992). Acquisition, generalization, and spontaneous use of color adjectives: A comparison of incidental teaching and traditional discrete-trial procedures for children with autism

Research in Developmental Disabilities, 13(3), 191-210.

Schepis, M. M., Reid, D. H., Fitzgerald, J. R., Faw, G., D., Van Den Pol, R. A., & Welty, P. A. (1982). A program for increasing manual signing by autistic and profoundly retarded youth within the daily environment. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 15(3), 363-379.


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