TEACCH helps children on the autism spectrum

Claudia Stack

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Parenting children on the autism spectrum can be very challenging. The various ways that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) presents means that different intervention strategies can work for different children. This article examines the Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication- Handicapped Children (TEACCH) model.

As a teacher, I have witnessed the positive impact the TEACCH program can have on families of children with autism. Having a child with autism can be very stressful, and parents of these children often feel judged and unsupported. However, through TEACCH methods parents can find a support and get help interacting with their children in constructive ways.

I taught a first-grader whose mother took him to the Wilmington, NC TEACCH center every week. They both looked forward to the sessions. In addition to helping her understand and communicate better with her child, the mother enjoyed being able to talk with other parents who are facing some of the same issues she does.

The TEACCH® Autism Program is a program based at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.  They have seven centers across the state of North Carolina, and also provide training and certification nationally. TEACCH was developed by Eric Schopler and Dr. Robert Reichler in the 1960s, The Autism Speaks organization notes that:

TEACCH uses a method called “Structured TEACCHing.” This is based on the unique learning needs of people with ASD, including: *Strengths in visual information processing *Difficulties with social communication, attention and executive function

In other words, children on the autism spectrum frequently have difficulty processing verbal (spoken) directions or information. This often leads to frustration, but their understanding can improve with the use of visual cues. TEACCH has a forty year track record of helping individuals with autism develop, learn and become more independent. Butler reported in 2016 that TEACCH methods could significantly improve communication even in severely impaired, older students (16 years and older) ( Butler, C. (2016), The effectiveness of the TEACCH approach in supporting the development of communication skills for learners with severe intellectual disabilities. Support for Learning, 31: 185-201. doi: 10.1111/1467-9604.12128 ).

These strategies can work with school-aged children, but also with toddlers. TEACCH provides parents with help and visual cues to help them communicate with their toddlers. This program is called the Family Implemented TEACCH for Toddlers (FITT).

The FITT program provides online teaching activities with pictures of visual cues to help parents. The FITT webpage states that:

Additional visual cues, or reminders of what the toddler should be doing before, during or at the conclusion of an activity, have proven effective with young children with ASD and are part of the structured teaching strategies used in FITT. These include the use of visual countdowns which allow a toddler to “see” how much time remains in an activity, visuals for choice-making which allow toddlers to see a field of choices during activities, and visuals for expectations which help toddlers better understand rules and limits (e.g. stop signs at back door).

There are numerous interventions and programs that are used for children on the autism spectrum. TEACCH stands out because of its long track record of success, and because its techniques can be used in any setting. TEACCH has been shown to improve social and communication behavior. In this way, it reduces stress and increases positive interactions within families of children who are on the autism spectrum.

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I am an educator and filmmaker. My documentary films on historic African American schools have screened at film festivals, colleges, libraries, and other venues. In Fall, 2017 I completed SHARECROP and SHARECROP: DELTA COTTON, documentaries that showcase oral history of the South’s “forgotten farmers.” These films have screened at festivals in major cities including London, Atlanta, Detroit.

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