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Autism Series: Structured Teaching

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Structured teaching is a way to visually organize lessons and objectives for individuals on the autism spectrum. The TEACCH program offers a 5-day training seminar for teachers and therapists. I was able to attend one of these seminars during my first year teaching autistic children. It was one of the best autism training seminars I have been to.

Overview

Structured TEACCHing is a framework. It is not a curriculum. Learning objectives are selected based on assessments or off of another curriculum. Each learning task is then designed in a way that autistic individuals will be able to access it. The visual strengthens of autistic individuals are utilized. The TEACCH philosophy is person-centered. Each unique autistic individual is the priority. The goal is to start with current skill levels and then help that person develop to their potential. Unique interests and strengths will be explored and developed. The goal is to understand the autistic person, not make them conform to neuro-typical standards. TEACCH attempts to fit within the “culture of autism” (Mesibov, 1998).

The visual organization used in TEACCH extends from the physical environment to individualized activities. Even temporal needs are taken into account through schedules. Each individual will receive the type and extent of structure needed. These variables may change over time as needs change. Although TEACCH may be known for independent learning tasks, leisure, communication and social skills are also a priority (Mesibov, 1998).

Benefits

In my opinion, TEACCH is the best framework for teaching autistic children to work independently. Independent work is an important life skill. Every person who achieves any level of independence will do so because they are able to complete the required tasks by themselves. Prompt dependence is avoided. As TEACCH is a philosophy, it is actually compatible with many other teaching techniques. Occupational therapy, speech therapy, and any other therapy can be integrated into TEACCH based programs. The visual structure provided by the TEACCH framework is a learning accommodation.

Key characteristics of a TEACCH framework

  • The physical environment is organized
  • There are individualized schedules for each student to let them know where they are supposed to be in the physical environment and what is next.
  • Work systems are set up so that the student knows
    • how many tasks must be completed before they are finished
    • what the payoff is for completing the tasks (it may be checking the schedule, play time, or access to a reinforcing item)
  • The materials in each learning activity are visually structured to clarify what is expected within the task.

How to create a structured teaching activity

  1. Select a learning objective
  2. Select or create materials to teach the learning objective
  3. Determine the amount of structure the individual student needs to be successful
  4. Set up the structure for the learning activity. Ask yourself…
    1. What am I doing to organize the materials?
    2. What is clarifying the expectations?
    3. How is instruction provided?

Examples of structured teaching activities

I will post links to sample structured teaching tasks as I create them:

In summary, TEACCH is a person-centered framework used to structure learning for individuals with autism. The physical environment, schedules, work systems, and learning materials are all visually structured for maximum independence.

For more information on structured teaching, consider reading the following books available on Amazon:

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References

Mesibov, G. B. (1998). What is TEACCH? Paper published by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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