People on the autism spectrum have limited communication and social skills, so educators and psychologists have collaborated to produce the TEACCH Method. This is an important advance in working with these individuals, whether they are children or adults because communication barriers that frustrate these learners can impede the process of teaching them educational or life skills or just communicating effectively with them.
The TEACHH Method is a specialized educational approach to educating certain children with autism ,although it is also adaptable for adult learners. This method was designed by experts at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill as a means to effectively educate children with autism and similar disorders where other methods had traditionally failed. Broken down, TEACCH stands for Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children.
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The TEACCH Method works on the basis of five critical components. Each of these components operates in tandem with the others so that a total-system, comprehensive, in-school and out-of-school approach is the ultimate product children receive. The following represent the basics of those components.
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“Physical Structure” refers to the physical qualities of the environments the child spends most of their time in. Home, school, family member’s homes, and all other locations the child spends time in do, in fact, have a real and observed impact. This is especially true with children with this type of disability. Generally, the least restrictive environment to the child’s learning and growth is recommended, but beyond this, each child’s situation is different, and a finely tuned environment then must be custom adapted to those individualized needs.
Use of Actual Boundaries
Additionally, it is helpful to establish real physical boundaries in the structured environment. An article on the website Teachhub.com says that physical structuring helps prevent behavior issues in mainstream students as well as those on the autism spectrum. Teachers must give thought to whether space must be allotted for wheelchairs or other medical issues. Currently, this includes the “social distancing” to which we all are becoming accustomed. Additionally, the type of learning expected in the area should determine if desks are arranged in front-facing rows or clusters ( to view blackboards or face the teacher), in semi-circles or even whether desks are used at all. Classrooms may use standing desks, beanbag chairs or designated areas on the floor.
Each student should have a “home base.” Additionally, there should be a designated area for group learning, an area to await the next activity ( a transitional area) and one that is meant as “teacher space.” These can be indicated through taped floor areas, furniture arrangement or even the placement of photos or posters that serve as visual cues. The goal is that once a student enters a specific area, he will know what is expected of him and can even begin that activity independently.
The “Scheduling” component to the TEACCH Method is, as one might guess, all about the time management portion of the child’s life. Time management and scheduling skills, as noted by The National Autistic Society and others, are key parts of the struggle with the condition for most. Consequently, this particular component to the TEACHH Method focuses on gradually working time awareness and management skills into the child’s daily routine without causing undue stress or anxiety.
Although the TEACCH Method is intended for children, it can also be employed with adult learners because the concepts are similar. The frustration resulting from inability to manage time can create anxiety, according to the website Synapse, and to obsessive routines and behaviors. The scheduling component of the TEACCH Method when used by adult learners helps them manage time so that they can live independently or even be employed.
Next, the “Work System” portion of the approach deals with the common issue of independence and the ability to stay on task with various responsibilities. This area of focus is administered by slowly providing the child with supported opportunities to work independently, follow scheduled tasks, and establish a sort of self work system. Tasks here are recommended to be direct and follow a simple pattern of procedure.
One of the misconceptions of this method is that it is useful only for people at the upper edge of the autism spectrum. It can, however, be used with people of all ability levels. While it is most effective in autonomous classrooms, it can be used in many settings, even the workplace. What is important is that whatever space is employed must accommodate the TEACCH Method concepts.
Routine ties in quite strongly with the above two components of the method. More specifically, this is the part of the approach that is concerned with growing the short-term independence steps of these components into a long-term pattern of self-sustainability and following patterns and schedules. The ultimate success in this area, of course, is long-term independence with little to no outside help later in life.
Finally, the “Visual Structure” component is the fifth part to the TEACHH Method and represents the goal of overcoming difficulties in the world of visual stimuli and interpretation. Per the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, “Autistic individuals have difficulty processing and responding to information from their senses, as well as difficulties with communication and social interaction.” As such, this area of the TEACCH Method asks for the child’s varying environments and activities to be visually geared at working with and improving this impairment area.
That means that instead of giving verbal cues, teachers rely on photographs and drawings to cue behavior. That element is not unlike the use of symbolic signs for restrooms or the characteristic shape of a “stop” or “yield” sign. Even distracted individuals can focus when given the visual cues though conflicting sounds and voices might otherwise make interpreting verbal cues difficult.
Where It Is Used
Most classrooms that employ TEACCH are autonomous, meaning that they do not include mainstream students. It can, however, be used in a one-on-one setting with a special education teacher. Psychologists can use the method in therapy sessions. It is also ideal for use in residential care facilities and handicapped workshops to teach life skills and manage behavior. Social Workers utilize the principles in working with autistic clients, and speech therapists can create a more successful learning environment to teach communication skills. It is truly a versatile way of teaching.
It has been mentioned already that this method is not only useful for the highest functioning but is effective with people of all ability levels. Many educators believe that the TEACCH Method is intended to teach skills and structure alone, but it seems also to encourage language development, which is why it is especially attractive to speech therapists. Another misconception in the same vein is that this method isolates students, but the opposite has been shown. Students taught in this method seem to develop social engagement skills as well.
Drawbacks to the TEACCH Method
Despite its extensive use and acclamation, there are some drawbacks to this method for teaching people on the autism spectrum. These lie primarily in the ability of researchers and practitioners to prove its effectiveness. The TEACCH Method claims to be evidence based, yet there is not enough actual evidence to support this claim. For one thing, studies of the TEACCH Method have not included control groups. That is, there is no way to measure it against a group using another teaching program. Studies have also not been able to employ double-blind assessments, and sample groups have been small. That means interpreting the test results is difficult. While researchers and educators can point to successes and positive results, it is impossible to absolutely link those results with the teaching method.
Autism is a very real handicap that affects thousands of children each and every day. While there are various approaches throughout the behavioral health industries to helping children with this condition, some methods have emerged as being clearly more effective than others. The TEACCH Method is one of those most effective approaches to autism and is widely accepted and encouraged throughout the greater expert community.
The reason people on the autism scale need special learning techniques is that they are wired differently.” The joy mainstream individuals take in a surprise or change in routine is not present with autistic people. That is because they lack the skills needed to adapt to the change. The non-autistic society we all live in expects its adult members to have that skill as well as certain other skills and abilities, according to an article in Autism-help.org. There are even expectations of children that autistic kids may fail to achieve. That makes them outsiders and on-lookers. People who feel disconnected, or who are in a panic mode, cannot process information well. Instead, the unexpected brings fear and disruption. Still, all children grow to be adults, and adults all have goals. Some of these are unrealistic, but all people want security, a home, a family, people who care about and accept them and self-esteem. Even those who seem to be unable to compete in society need these things. Comfortable life for an autistic person is predictable. When they set goals, and meet conflict, they can become overwhelmed and their behavior unmanageable even to them.
They need to learn how to avoid panic in planning for a future that may seem overwhelming to them. Knowing how to set goals, especially attainable goals, is a skill learned in childhood. Students set goals like learning math skills, writing a paragraph, and finishing a project. When they meet their goals, they set others. Success breeds esteem. Esteem helps us all to “fit in” and be productive. From children to adults, learners in the TEACCH Method seem to achieve those successes. Even though the effectiveness of this teaching method is not proven, it is found in areas of success. Practitioners and researchers alike point to these successes as evidence of the efficacy of the method.