When talking about Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), many would assume that it’s all about DTT (Discrete Trial Training), where the sessions mainly consist of tabletop tasks with flashcards. The child will be reinforced when they do the tasks correctly with edibles or tokens; and prompted to make corrections when they do the tasks incorrectly.

As time has passed, ABA has evolved beyond DTT and a good programme should involve instances of ’incidental teaching’, an approach that provides structured learning opportunities within the natural environment by using the child’s interests and natural motivation.

For example, rather than having the child sit at the table to identify colours by giving the therapist a flashcard, the ABA therapist will take advantage of something that the child is engaged in and have them identify the targeted colours on the toy that they are playing with. This means that we need to follow the lead of the child in selecting the activity or situation in which the learning opportunities will occur.

Here are some tips on incidental teaching:

  1. Follow the child’s lead – identify the materials, actions, and objects that are motivating to the child at a given time. Use what the child is already playing with!
  2. Plan ahead – have in mind what you want to work on and identify the instances where you can do that in a more fun and natural way! Think of different themes to learn each month and do activities related to the topics. There are many websites such as Pinterest that provide inspiration for fun teaching ideas for parents. Make April the month for Easter and do anything that’s related to the theme! For example, paint Easter eggs in different colours, count them, and crack them to see what’s inside!
  3. Explore together – when your child has questions, don’t give the answers right away! Figure them out and explore together! Take some trips to libraries and museums to look for answers! (Covid option: go on virtual tours online!)
  4. Environmental arrangements – pre-arrange the environment to facilitate incidental teaching opportunities. For example, placing desired items out of reach, so that every time when the child wants something, they must go to the adult to request for it. Only give a small amount of the items every time, so that the child will have more opportunities to ask again.

Incidental teaching strategies are designed to increase motivation and support generalisation. They are still based on the concept of ABA in which behaviours that are reinforced will increase; behaviours that are not reinforced reduce and eventually disappear. Stay closely in touch with your child’s therapeutic and educational teams to gain some ideas. Most importantly, make learning fun!