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Teaching Strategies for ASD Children: Why the TEACCH Method Works


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by difficulties in communication and language, understanding abstract concepts, gestures, and understanding the concept of time as well as engaging in social settings and creating interpersonal relationships, to name a few. Due to these difficulties, some children with autism lack the social or emotional ability to engage in conversations, and lack adaptive social skills.

Teaching Strategies for ASD Children: Why the TEACCH Method Works

Because of these challenges that children with autism experience, which affect their ability to be independent, the TEACCH method was developed. The TEACCH method is a structured form of teaching that focuses on the child’s development needs, interests, and his/her skills to develop the child’s autonomy.

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This article will provide a brief overview of the TEACCH method, its principles, and the benefits of this approach for children on the autism spectrum, with evidence from literature.

What is the TEACCH method?

The TEACCH method, which stands for the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children method, was specifically developed for children with autism spectrum disorder. This method of teaching was developed at the University of North Carolina by Dr. Eric Schopler and Dr. Robert Reichler in the 1960s; its methodology delivers a structured form of visual learning and is sometimes referred to as Structured Teaching.

One of the benefits of the TEACCH method is that it is specific to ASD and takes into account all the characteristic traits of autism, and each autistic child’s difficulties, making the intervention specific for every child’s needs. This is done through structured and continuous intervention, by adapting the environment, and providing alternative communication training. It can also be implemented alongside other approaches or therapies.

It takes into account people’s strong points to help them clarify the ‘where-how-when-how long’ of events so they become more independent in managing their own space and time. The aim of the TEACCH method is to help children on the autism spectrum have a better understanding of reality from a perceptual point of view by using visual aids.

The role of parents is recognized in the TEACCH method, so much so, the method is not only centered around structured learning based on the child’s learning style, but also, it teaches parents how to assess and implement individualized support for their children at home.

What are the key principles of the TEACCH Method?

The TEACCH method relies on the core principles of Structured Teaching. These principles are: the organization of the physical environment, a predictable sequence of activities, visual schedules, routines and flexibility, work/activity systems, and visually structured activities.

A look at the principles of Structured Teaching

1. The organization of the physical environment/physical structure

This principle looks at making the environment conducive for learning. It should be interesting and manageable for children with autism.

The layout of the environment needs to account for the student’s learning styles and sensory differences. The layout involves the placement of furniture and the organization of learning aids around the classroom; a well established environment decreases stimulation, limits distractions, and reduces anxiety, as well as promotes consistent and effective work.

To make the environment effective, the age and learning needs of the child need to factor into the organization of that environment. Clear boundaries need to be in place to avoid the child from wandering. Explicit visual cues or written information (for verbal children on the spectrum) are critical.

2. Predictable sequence of activities/scheduling

When the activities and environment are predictable, this reduces anxiety, especially when it involves activities that follow after the other. Each sequence in the activities is explained to the child with ASD through the use of visual aids.


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3. Visual schedules

Visual communication is generally much easier to understand and much more accessible. When a person on the spectrum follows a particular routine by looking at the schedule, the task becomes less confusing and therefore reduces the occurrence of unwanted behaviors. Another benefit of visual scheduling is that it builds independence and competence, especially when the person or child learns to adopt this themselves in their everyday routine.

Examples of visual schedules include: to do lists, a schedule outline activities, step-by-step instructions to complete tasks (using pictures for example), or timetables.

4. Routines and flexibility

Routines serve two purposes: firstly, they make the activity or everyday task predictable, which reduces confusion and anxiety; secondly, for parents, teachers, or therapists, they stop the child from developing his/her own routine which could otherwise not be favorable or adaptable socially.

With routine, there needs to be a balance with flexibility because our everyday life is not constant, each day has its own challenges that force us to adjust. So, because children with autism have difficulty understanding the world is not invariable, their routine should be challenged. For example, using slightly different materials when he/she works, walking different paths, introducing different games, or choosing different times than usual when going out for walks etc. The goal is for the routine to be predictable but also vary slightly so the focus is on the structure not the detail.

5. Structure work/activity systems

This helps the child understand the task, stay focused and complete the task independently. It answers four key questions: first, what is the task or activity?, secondly, how much work is required for this task during this specific period?, thirdly, how will the child know when he/she is making progress and when the activity is completed?, and lastly, what happens after the task is completed?

For an autistic child who may struggle to understand language, these questions can be answered using pictures, symbols, colors, numbers, or objects. For example, when doing a matching activity, using items like Velcro to stick pictures where appropriate and ensuring the activity is visually clear on what the child needs to do i.e. matching colors or shapes.

On the other hand, an autistic child who understands language would do well with written lists of tasks and labels.

6. Visually structured activities

Activities need to be visually clear and meaningful to the child. If the child can’t touch, see or hold the activity, he/she will likely not engage in the activity nor find it engaging enough for him/her to give attention. Visual instructions tell the child what he/she needs to do, visual organization involves providing the required materials needed to complete the task, neatly organized and stable. Finally, visual clarity helps the child on the autism spectrum know what he/she is doing because it is clear and it is not visually distracting, overwhelming, or confusing.

What are the benefits of the TEACCH method?

Besides the fact that the TEACCH method was developed specifically for children with autism, its use of visual cues for teaching makes learning more accessible, especially for children who are non-verbal. Visual aids make learning a universal tool.

The main goal of the TEACCH method is for children on the autism spectrum to acquire social skills and to help change their perception of social settings in a positive way.

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Research studies have shown the TEACCH method is effective; one study states that this method impacted autistic children’s adaptive behaviors, plus social reciprocity, including the parents’ stress levels and parent-child interactions. Similar research has shown this method is effective in reducing self-injurious behaviors

An added benefit to the TEACCH method is that, when parents are trained and can apply this method of teaching at home, and thereafter the child’s behavior becomes more adaptive in their everyday routine, parental stress decreases. The role of parents in applying this method at home not only increases the efficacy of this methodology, but also contributes to the child’s independence and improved integration socially.

Summing-up

Parents of children with autism can benefit from the TEACCH method because it recognizes the challenges related to autism and adapts its methodology to the child’s specific needs. It’s even more beneficial because parents can take training and therefore implement this method at home.

Remember, for any behavior to become unconscious and occur naturally, it needs to be reinforced not just by the teacher or therapist, but its application at home is also crucial.

The TEACCH method is a registered trademark of the University of North Carolina TEACCH® Autism Program, therefore, for information on training and consultation visit: https://teacch.com/trainings/five-day-classroom-training/

References

Ichikawa, K., Takahashi, Y., Ando, M., Anme, T., Ishizaki, T., Yamaguchi, H., & Nakayama, T. (2013). TEACCH-based group social skills training for children with high-functioning autism: a pilot randomized controlled trial. BioPsychoSocial medicine, 7(1), 14. https://doi.org/10.1186/1751-0759-7-14

Mesibov, G.B., Shea, V. (2010) The TEACCH Program in the Era of Evidence-Based Practice. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 570–579. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-009-0901-6

Mesibov, G. B., Shea, V., & Schopler, E. (2005). The TEACCH approach to autism spectrum disorders. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

NasoudiGharehBolagh, R., Zahednezhad, H., VosoughiIlkhchi, S. (2013) The Effectiveness of Treatment-Education Methods in Children with Autism Disorders, Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 84, 1679-1683, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.07.013.

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