Autism is a persistent developmental disability

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Autistic spectrum disorder is the term used to describe a range of behaviourally defined neurodevelopmental conditions (Charman, and Care, 2004). Autism is a persistent developmental disability. Autistic disorder is a neurological and developmental disorder that usually appears during childhood. A child with autism appears to live in his own world, showing little interest in other people, and a lack of social awareness. The focus of an autistic child is a coherent routine and contains an interest in repeating odd and peculiar behaviours. Autistic children frequently have difficulties in communication, avoid eye contact with peers and teachers and show limited attachments to others. Autism can coexist with cognitive delay or with syndromes (Schopler & Mesibov, 1985). According to Watson et al, (1989) it is a developmental disturbance, which describes people who cannot understand properly what they see, hear and feel. As a result, they face problems in their social relationships, communication and behaviour. According to Happe (1994) the three principal areas of difficulty that all people with autism share are occasionally known as the 'triad of impairments'. They are:

Difficulty with social communication.

Difficulty with social interaction.

Difficulty with social imagination.

According to (Jordan, R. & Powell, S. 1995), the perception, the attention, the memory, the thought and the motives contribute in the process of learning. The range of Autism has great heterogeneity in cognitive functions that involve inhomogeneous-ness in behaviours and in educational needs (Jordan & Powell, 1995).

According to Schopler & Mesibov (1985), successful practice for pupils with autism is the consequence of knowledge, hard work and appropriate resources. Since many children with autism are stimulating and unsuited to standard considerations, teachers need to participate in a comprehensive program which represents the child's learning profile and informs the planning of appropriate future objectives. The approach most popularly associated with autism is known as TEACCH.

Structured Teaching within TEACCH

The TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication handicapped CHildren) has been founded in North Carolina in the late 60's and has been generally established by professor Eriv Schopler in the 70's. Today, In North Carolina, there are nine diagnostic, counselling and support centers that use the TEACCH approach, to support people with autism (Hodgdon, 1995). TEACCH is a program which implements Structured Teaching and is based on the principles of establishing in effectively communicating to the child. Moreover, TEACCH is a whole life approach which tends to help people with autism and provides them a better life in the community. According to Mesibov, and Howley (2003), TEACCH uses a visual knowledge structure and provides clinical services like diagnostic assessments, parent teaching and parent support groups, social play and recreation groups, characteristic guidance for higher-functioning customers, and supported occupation.  TEACCH includes psychological, educational, and biomedical assessments.  It is a very structured program that integrates individualised classroom approaches, services delivered by outside community organisations, and support services for the families.

TEACCH has two characteristics: the individualized education and the structured environment. It is used to help children with autism to control their behaviour in their everyday communication and socialization and to develop their skills. Thus, the TEACCH is based on the "culture" of autism (Schopler, & Hearsey, 1995) and on the structured teaching. Consequently, TEACCH approach is focused on how children with autism think, learn and understand, in order to adapt better to their needs (Schopler, & Hearsey, 1995).

TEACCH program is designed specifically for each child depending on his own individual needs. Children with autism find it very difficult to learn in a group situation because they do not consider themselves as part of a group. TEACCH is a structured technique specialised to the person's visual perception dealing with strengths by organising the physical construction of the room and providing a visual behaviour to supply information about occupations. Structured teaching places heavy reliance upon teaching through visual means due to the difficulties that children with autism face with verbal information. Visual structure is supplied at a variety of levels like setting up areas in the classroom, providing a daily schedule using pictures or written words, as well as visual instructions and optical arrangement signalling at the beginning and at the completion of tasks.

According to (Hanbury, 2005) TEACCH is determined by four principles:

It is focused on the skills, needs and the interests of each individual. Furthermore, it is focused on individualized evaluation in order to occur and personalize an educational program.

TEACCH essentially uses evaluative methods: Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) (Schopler, Reichler, & Renner, 1988), Psychoeducational Profile and Adolescent and Adult Psychoeducational Profile (Mesibov et al, 1988; Schopler et. al, 1990).

The TEACCH program includes cognitive and behavioural therapy.

It uses visual stimuli like images for better education.

Moreover, it is appropriate to exist cooperation between the instructor and the parents in order to exchange information. The TEACCH is using structured teaching and supports the individual to be an active member in society (Schopler, Mesibov, & Hearsey, 1995).

Main elements of the TEACCH program are:

The work station;

The work system;

The daily schedule;

The work station (Cumine, 2000) is a physical construction with clear limits:

A screened work table or an area defined by coloured tape;

No distractions or clutter.

The work system (Hanbury, 2005) shows the pupil:

what work is to be done;

How much is to be done;

What happens when it is finished;

The schedule (Cumine, 2000) is a VISUAL representation of the timetable for each day. It may use:



pictures/ symbols (for instance, instance Inclusive Writer);


The Principles Of TEACCH

According to the bibliography, the general principles of TEACCH are:

Assessment knowledge of students' with autism and the appropriate way that they learn. The knowledge evaluation determines the educational objectives and the appropriate instructive frame for children with autism.

Individualization of the daily program, in the school work of children with autism. The programs for students with autism through TEACCH are strictly individualized and based on the characteristics, interests, difficulties and needs of each child (Faherty, 2003).

Clarification of the expectations that teachers have regarding the autonomy of children with autism. This will be achieved with pictures or objects that function as a reminder in order the students to be informed about the work that has to be completed and the order in which it should be done almost by them.

Objectives Of TEACCH

An important component of structured teaching in the TEACCH approach is the layout of the environment. The structured environment corresponds better to the way that children with autism think and thus feel calmer. The organized environment is foreseeable and facilitates the adaptation of children with autism. It is basically an organized system of the educational material that facilitates the learning.

Objectives Of Structured Teaching

Consistency and predictability.

Stability and simplification of situations.

Increase autonomy.

Structured teaching can offer to children with autism (Aarons, and Gittens, 1992):

1) Reduction of difficulties about organizing time so as the autistic children to manage their time.

2) Stability situations. Children with autism can occupy and focus in basic situations.

3) Increase of autonomy. The layout of environment helps children to occupy the environment and become autonomous in many areas of their life.

Thus, in my opinion, structured teaching helps children with autism to become familiar with their environment and to express better their needs. Consequently, autistic children can activate their selves and follow routines. As a result, they can obtain autonomy to take part in plenty activities on their own.

Essential Components of the TEACCH Approach

According to Schopler and Mesibov (1995), there are four major components of structured teaching in the TEACCH program:

Physical organisation


Work system

Task organisation

In broad terms these components can be seen to represent the where, when, what and how of the child's learning; supporting understanding through the structure, consistency and focus on the child's characteristic strengths.

First, physical organisation is an essential component of the TEACCH approach. This relates to the layout of the classroom and other significant learning areas. With a physical organisation, children learn to associate places with occupations. Children with autism are helped from a physical environment due to the fact that it is structured to decrease the possibility of distraction or over-stimulation. A characteristic of the physical organisation of the learning environment relates to the position of rooms and the locations of items within the room. Rooms have to be close to other environments relevant to the child's learning. For instance, if a child learns to use the toilet, it is better his school classroom to be near the toilet. In the structured environment, the child is informed about the daily program. The physical structure and the organisation of the classroom environment intend to help the child to understand what happens, and what he should expect. Apart from the class, there is also a space for structured game, for example, an area where the child can listen to music.

Second, the use of schedules involves a visual diary timetable of the events and activities of the child's day. The precise presentation of the schedule will vary in detail depending on the child's perceptive ability and experience of using it. The main objective of the daily program is for the autistic child to understand how to systematize his school time and to participate actively in the school. Generally, children might use a strip of symbols or photographs to sequence events. More capable individuals will carry diaries providing written information of the expectations of the day, week or month. Thus, schedules are organising the time for children with autism without depending upon language skills. When a task or action is completed by a child, then it is removed from the schedule and is replaced by another action, which indicates the next task in order. I think that the use of the schedule can be self impelling in that it is foreseeable and reliable and seems to give children a sense of pleasure and security.

The schedules have different forms, depending upon each child's skills. For instance, for children that are able to read, the teacher writes their activities on the schedule. In contrast, for children which are not capable in reading, the teacher can use alternative options such as:





The visual diary timetable informs the child about the changes that occur during the day, thus improving the child's behaviour. The schedules are being placed in a specific area in the classroom that is called "Transition Area".

Third, the use of work systems is a process of organising an activity at school or at home. The work systems give clear information to children about what is expected from them regarding a task, during the lesson time. Depending to the cognitive level of students with autism, there are several different work systems. The simplest work system consists of objectives that the teacher places strategically on the child's desk. Then, the child is informed about the work, that has to complete and the order in which it should be done. Thus, children can work in a systematical manner by having a purpose in doing so. Completing a school work can be self-motivating for children, given to them a rewarding sense of satisfaction.

Fourth, the task organisation determines activities that students with autism ought to do independently, what needs to be done within a task, how many items must be executed and what will be the final outcomes. (Schopler et al., 1995). The expert on autism and TEACCH ought to give clear, visual instructions for every task. Children, within task organisation are encouraged to complete their efforts with success.

Critique Of TEACCH

TEACCH is a school based programme that offers an organised learning environment and develops the visual abilities of children with autism. In relation to the traditional teaching methods and practices which are mainly based on the oral speech, TEACCH corresponds better to the educational needs of children. Structured teaching helps these children to develop organised autonomy behaviour and to succeed in their school life.

According to Jordan and Jones (1999), there are few studies, which examined if TEACCH helps people with autism or not. Nevertheless, researchers show, that TEACCH program helps teachers to improve their educational knowledge about autism. Dalldorf and Schopler (1981) found, in their survey that parents of children with autism and other several cognitive delays have positive opinion about the program. However, two later studies conducted in Italy showed that TEACCH helps children with autism to reduce behaviour problems (Panerai et al, 1997). A more recent study in Italy (Panerai et al, 1998) compared children with cognitive delay to children with autism who had been trained by TEACCH program. This study showed that children who attended the TEACCH program presented better performance in school and in functionality generally.

An important part of TEACCH is concerned with the teaching skills required for the development of students' independency that will be achieved from the optical organization of the school environment. In this way, students with autism can be able to understand ways on how to operate in situations that have not an explicit structure.

With TEACCH, environment is structured so as to facilitate the difficulties that children with autism face in their everyday lives and simultaneously children are trained to behave in an appropriate and acceptable manner. TEACCH helps the visual clarity of the child's learning, having in mind to structure his organization and independence. Also, TEACCH aims to improve the performance of children through activities. Although it does not focus specifically on social and communication skills as other treatments do, it can, however, be used with these treatments in order to be more effective. Furthermore, the schedule based TEACCH is a behavioural management system that makes children's with autism to rely on visual cues.

The principal target of TEACCH is to help autistic children develop a highest level of autonomy at their adult age. It aims to help them comprehend the world that surrounds them, acquiring communication skills that will qualify them against other individuals and provide them - as much as possible - the essential capability to be able to make options about their own lives. TEACCH is an innovative way of building children's independence that can be easily learned no matter the child's age.

However, the difficulty with TEACCH is that it appears to be unchanged. TEACCH is not an instruction or learning method but a behavioural management system and the Social interaction and verbal communication are not emphasized by TEACCH. Furthermore, sometimes single classroom cannot supply suitable training of staff or cooperative work with parents.

Also, TEACCH is a program that tries to respond to the needs of autistic peoples using the best available approaches and methods, trying to educate them and provide the maximum level of autonomy that they can achieve.

To conclude our critique can be seen in the table below



Identifies the need of supported children with autism from childhood to adulthood.

TEACCH programs do not teach language.

Parents are like co-occurred thus increasing the confidence of children with autism.

Sometimes single classroom cannot supply suitable training of staff or cooperative work with parents.

Facilitates the autonomy of children with autism.

Does not promote interaction with typical peers.

Provides a sense of satisfaction for the child.


The aim of TEACCH is to develop the understanding of children with autism about their school and home environment and also to increase their autonomy. Thus, TEACCH appears as one of the multiral educational frames for children with autism. It is based on individual programmes of learning aimed to increase the ability for learning and playing through peer interaction. Also, by using visual timetables and other visual clues (eg. photos, pictures, words) children with autism can organise effectively their activities both at home and at their school. Τhe TEACCH methodology uses appropriate techniques to address specific  issues. The strategies put forward by TEACCH do not operate on behaviour directly, but for its underlying causes, such as lack of comprehension of what the person is expected to do or what will take place next.

According to Mesibov et al. (2005), spontaneous communication is considered to be a vital purpose for all people with autism. As the attention of children with autism is distracted easily, TEACCH helps them to improve their behaviour against specific tasks, and as a result they become capable to understand what is important in different circumstances of their lives and how to be independent.