The TEACCH Autism Programme
The TEACCH Autism Programme was developed in the 1960’s by Dr Eric Schopler. It is now a comprehensive clinical and psychoeducational programme for supporting people with autism. It is based in the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and has Centres throughout the state. The programme is adopted worldwide.
The TEACCH Autism Programme’s philosophy views autism as a culture, and therefore a key assumption is that the environment and daily activities need to be adapted to meet the unique needs and strengths of individuals with autism. This theory is discussed by Dr Gary B Mesibov and Dr Victoria Shea in their paper, ‘Culture of Autism’ (1998). Click here to link to more information on the Culture of Autism: http://www.autismuk.com/the-culture-of-autism/
Research confirms that students with autism tend to have a visually based learning style. The TEACCH Autism Programme aims to facilitate learning through a visual and structured teaching approach. The methods can be adapted to suit all ages and ability levels.
Autism and learning style
Children learn in the early stages of development via two major systems of learning; explicit learning and implicit learning. Implicit learning typically develops within the first year of life and is necessary for language learning and social understanding. A significant characteristic of implicit learning is that it occurs without conscious attempts to learn. Research studies by Klinger and her colleagues suggest that implicit learning in the early stages of development is impaired in children with autism. (Klinger et al, 2007)
Many children with autism in the early stages of development experience early learning differences within the areas of attention and implicit learning, as well as later learning differences in Executive Function and Theory of Mind.
Students who experience difficulties in Executive Functioning may have weak organisational skills, weak sequencing and planning skills, difficulty with impulse control and poor emotional regulation. Click here for video link of Professor Russell Barkley providing additional information on Executive Functioning
Students who experience an impairment in Theory of Mind can have difficulty understanding that other people have feelings and beliefs that are different from their own.
Structured teaching is effective because:
- It helps the student with autism to understand expectations.
- It helps students with autism to be calm.
- It suits their learning style.
- Structure is the prosthetic device that will help the student with autism to achieve independence.
- Structure is a form of behaviour management. We teach the student appropriate behaviours and then generalise the behaviour through visual systems.
- It promotes flexible thinking
Over the years misunderstandings and myths have developed around some practices in the programme, largely due to a lack of understanding.
Educational Principles of Structured Visual Teaching Approaches
- Students are best helped with their parents/carers as co-educators alongside professionals,
- Students should be as independent as possible,
- Teaching skills should start with assessment and the process should be ongoing as programmes develop,
- Intervention should be individualized and
- Strengths and interests should be utilised in the development of intervention programmes.
Aims of Structured Visual Teaching Strategies are
- To build understanding
- To increase meaning
- To increase predictability
- To teach functional skills
- Spontaneous communication
- To increase learning
Structured Teaching Elements
- Physical structure
- Visual Schedules
- Activity systems
- Structured activities
- Incorporating students strengths and interest when using structured teaching
Structured visual teaching approaches provide a framework on which to help the learner engage and learn. The principles of the TEACCH Programme can be used as a method to teach. There are other evidence based strategies also available which can be used to teach skills such as emotional regulation programmes, anxiety management, social skills programmes, Attention Autism section and video modelling techniques.
This chapter describes only the fundamental principles of the Programme. Please see this video for further information on training in the programme. See the TEACCH Autism Programme Video.
Mesiboy, Gary B. and Victoria Shea. “The culture of autism: From theoretical understanding to educational practice.” Structured teaching: The TEACCH approach to working with autism (1998).
Klinger, Laura Grofer, Mark R. Klinger, and Rebecca L. Pohlig. “Implicit learning impairments in autism spectrum disorders.” New developments in autism: The future is today (2007): 76-103.
Read next: Attention Autism →