What is the TEACCH Method?

The TEACCH method was developed by researchers who wanted a more effective and integrated approach to helping individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). TEACCH is an evidence-based academic program that is based on the idea that autistic individuals are visual learners, so teachers must correspondingly adapt their teaching style and intervention strategies.

A Brief History

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects an individual’s behavior and communication. Most people with autism struggle with language and function according to culturally normal social standards. People with autism may lack social awareness, emotional reciprocity and the ability to sustain conversations. There are currently different treatment and intervention models for autism, but evidence-based research is very limited. During the late 1970’s, the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) research program was formed at the University of North Carolina. Their continuing mission is to promote structured learning environments that encourage visual based engagement and communication.

The Five Basic Principles

TEACCH is centered on five basic principles. First, physical structure refers to individual’s immediate surroundings. Daily activities, such as playing and eating, work best when they are clearly defined by physical boundaries. Second, having a consistent schedule is possible through various mediums, such as drawings and photographs. Third, the work system establishes expectations and activity measurements that promote independence. Ideal work systems will communicate objectives with minimum written instructions. Fourth, routine is essential because the most important functional support for autistic individuals is consistency. Fifth, visual structure involves visually-based cues for reminders and instruction.

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Common Misperceptions

There are many common myths and misperceptions about autism and the TEACCH method. One of the most common misunderstandings is that TEACCH is designed only for children. The TEACCH method works well with any individual with ASD. It is also not limited to those with intellectual disabilities, but individuals with ASD at all developmental levels. While the TEACCH method works best in self-contained classrooms, it can be implemented in any educational setting. Many people think that TEACCH programs are mainly for skills and structure, but they also promote language development. Some parents fear that TEACCH programs will isolate children with ASD, but it actually helps them to experience meaningful relationships and enjoyable social interactions.

Final Thoughts

Although the TEACCH method is based on scientific research and documented studies, there are several potential limitations. The existing research studies of the TEACCH programs show that no harm is done, but struggle to isolate statistical correlations. That is, most studies have lacked control groups, failed to use double-blind methods and suffered from small sample sizes. Teachers and parents support TEACCH because most ASD students experience progress, but it is difficult to pinpoint how the positive changes are directly correlated to the program. Most researchers feel that while more research is needed, TEACCH is a widely successful program that offers potential benefits. Individuals with ASD may also benefit from comparative interventions, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis.

The TEACCH method is a structured program that helps individuals with ASD learn, function and reach their goals.