A Parent's Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Teaching Methods: TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped CHildren)

TEACCH was developed by psychologist Eric Schopler at the University of North Carolina in the 1960s; it is used by many public school systems today. A TEACCH classroom is structured, with separate, defined areas for each task, such as individual work, group activities, and play. It relies heavily on visual learning, a strength for many children with autism and PDD. The children use schedules made up of pictures and/or words to order their day and to help them move smoothly between activities. Children with autism may find it difficult to make transitions between activities and places without schedules.

Young children may sit at a work station and be required to complete certain activities, such as matching pictures or letters. The finished assignments are then placed in a container. Children may use picture communication symbols -- small laminated squares that contain a symbol and a word -- to answer questions and request items from their teacher. The symbols help relieve frustration for nonverbal children while helping those who are starting to speak to recall and say the words they want.

This method of "structured teaching" is often less intensive than Applied Behavior Analysis or Verbal Behavior programs in the preschool years.

According to information previously published on its web site, TEACCH respects "the culture of autism" and embraces a philosophy that people with autism have "characteristics that are different, but not necessarily inferior, to the rest of us." It says, "the person is the priority, rather than any philosophical notion like inclusion, discrete trial training, facilitated communication, etc."

Drawbacks to this method: Social interaction and verbal communication may not be as heavily stressed as other teaching methods; TEACCH is more focused on accommodating a child's autistic traits than in trying to overcome them. Also, more research is needed into the effectiveness of TEACCH, especially in comparison to Applied Behavior Analysis and other teaching methods.

In contrast to the outcome studies of ABA published by Dr. Ivar Lovaas, TEACCH has not published comprehensive, long-term studies of its effectiveness in treating and educating children. A short-term study in 1998 found that young children who received four months of a home-based TEACCH program improved more than children who received no treatment at all.

Parents who want their child completely included in all classes with nondisabled children may not be happy with a TEACCH program. Some schools primarily use TEACCH in self-contained "autism classrooms," but it can be used in regular, inclusive classes.

The TEACCH program developed in North Carolina includes an array of services such as evaluations, parent training and support groups, social and recreation groups, counseling, and supported employment. However, these services may be missing from public schools in other states that have adopted this method for their autism classroom. You may wish to learn more about the North Carolina model to see how your school's TEACCH program measures up.

The TEACCH Approach to Autism Spectrum DisordersTEACCH Approach to Autism book by Dr. Gary B. Mesibov, Victoria Shea and Eric Schopler Ph.D., founder, Division TEACCH at UNC. This comprehensive handbook explains the philosophy and methods of this program. Compare your school district's TEACCH program to the one described in this book.

Web site: TEACCH at UNC

Parent Survival Manual: A Guide to Crisis Resolution in AutismParent Survival Manual: A Guide to Crisis Resolution in Autism and Related Developmental Disorders, edited by Eric Schopler, Ph.D. Based on interviews with parents and behavioral experts, this book provides practical solutions to common behavior problems involving aggression, communication, hygiene, social skills, eating and sleep.

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