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5 Key Principles of the TEACCH Method

Key Principles of the TEACCH MethodIf you are currently in a teaching, ABA, or another related college program, or just graduated and are searching for the perfect position, there will be various strategies and techniques that you will need to become an expert at. You may learn and practice them in your college program, may learn about them while doing your internship or practicum, or perhaps you have found out about most of your favorite techniques by gaining experience in the classroom as a teacher or ABA specialist. 

On the other hand, it is possible that many people reading this are either just getting started in the world of behavior or they have tried other strategies and techniques that don’t seem to get the results they want.  

Sometimes there are just too many resources out there along with all of the blogs and social media content claiming that this is the right strategy to choose for the children you work with. 

In education, for example, the field is inundated with free online resources through social media, free and membership educational websites, blogs, Teachers Pay Teachers, YouTube, etc. It can be challenging to pick through everything available and come out with a few solid, research-based techniques that have a positive track record. And ones that will be individualized enough and benefit the children you work with. 

That’s what we are here for! We are the experts in ABA and want to share about a research-based method to use as a teacher or behavior analyst. 

TEACCH Method

A person interested in education, applied behavior analysis, or a related field should be aware of the five key principles of the TEACCH method. The TEACCH, or Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children, is a method of teaching children with autism and was developed by the University of North Carolina in the 1970s. 

This method promotes structured learning environments with a focus on visual learning for children with a range of disabilities such as those with visual information processing issues and those who have difficulties with social communication, attention, and executive functioning.  

The TEACCH experts at UNC describe the core values that surround this method. 

  1. Demonstrating a commitment to making a positive difference in the lives of others.
  2. Creating a culture of collaboration and partnership, where everyone is respected and valued.
  3. Delivering excellence through innovative and responsive practices.
  4. Appreciating the unique strengths of every individual.
  5. Emphasizing the importance of continuous lifelong learning.
  6. Cultivating an environment that actively promotes inclusion, diversity, and equity.

Continue reading to learn more about the key components of TEACCH and how learning these strategies can help you be a more effective educator or analyst. 

1. Physical Structure

Physical space in TEACCH classroomThe physical structure is the first part of the TEACCH method. It refers to the individual’s surroundings or environment. Clear physical boundaries are in place for all of the day’s activities. For example, playing takes place in one part of a room, and eating takes place in a cafeteria.

Having organized physical spaces that each have their own function is important when working with younger students and also students with autism or developmental disability. The needs of the individuals in a classroom should be taken into consideration when creating the classroom space, and of course, this space can be modified throughout the year based on needs. 

The use of the physical structure for students with autism aim will help

  • To increase organization
  • To make the environment more predictable
  • To visually communicate what is expected in the environment
  • To visually direct the student to an activity
  • To reduce distractions
  • To reduce anxiety

Education experts recommend creating clear physical boundaries, such as by using tape on the floor, furniture, or other resources to make the boundaries obvious. They also recommend minimizing auditory and visual distractions as much as possible, for example by using fabric coverings, room dividers, containers, and bins. Create a unique organizational system and utilize ASD-type resources to achieve these recommendations. 

2. Consistent Schedules

Consistent Schedules for autism studentsConsistency in the timing of events is the second principle of the TEACCH method. This can be established through verbal communication, written communication, and drawings or pictures. For example, a schedule for a five-year-old in a preschool class for children with autism might include a board with pictures of the day’s schedule. Those pictures might include the American flag for the pledge of allegiance, a picture of a book for storytime, and a picture of crayons for art. The second row might include a picture of a plate for snack or lunchtime, a picture of a playground for recess time, and a picture of a ball for gym class.

Being consistent with a schedule in an ASD classroom is crucial. It not only helps to teach the students the schedule so that they can be more independent with time management but it also can reassure students who need to know what is coming next and prefer a predictable routine. 

Children with autism oftentimes struggle with transitions and maintaining appropriate behavior when changes are made without their knowledge, so consistency of a schedule is key.  

Of course, the ultimate goal is to encourage children with autism and developmental delays to accept changes and to become more flexible with their daily routines. Setting a schedule and slowly making changes, adding in choices to make changes, and generalizing portions of the schedule to other areas can help students become more flexible. 

3. Establishment of Expectations

Establishment of Expectations in the TEACCH methodIn the TEACCH method, the third principle is the establishment of expectations. These expectations may be behavioral, activity-based, academic, or for communication. Having a clear set of expectations makes it easier for a parent, caregiver, educator, or therapist to set up consequences or interventions when the expectations are not met. This principle also includes activity measurements. The goal is to set up the child for independent work and functioning.

Establishing and practicing classroom expectations, as well as expectations in other areas such as the hallway, bathroom, cafeteria, bus, etc. is a must. Students with ASD need clear instructions, visuals, and a lot of practice to learn what is expected of them. Generally, those with autism thrive on clear boundaries and rules. 

One great way to help establish classroom expectations with an ASD classroom or certain individuals is to use a social story or visuals that are reviewed each and every day. For example, right when students come into the classroom, read a social story on the board together as a group about morning routine expectations. Switch over to computer expectations when they’re about to use technology, and go over rules about walking in the hallway to lunch and eating in the cafeteria right before as well. 

You can’t review expectations too much. 

4. Maintenance of a Routine

Setting up and maintaining a routine is essential for someone with autism. Children with autism typically thrive on consistency. When something that is outside of their routine occurs, this may cause them to withdraw or become uncooperative for the activity or event. Parents, caregivers, and educators all need to work together in order to maintain consistency in a routine from one environment to another and one school year to another.

The experts at Marcus Autism Center offer a step-by-step guide to establishing a (home) routine, but this can be used in a classroom setting as well. 

  1. Identify each step of a task you’d like your child to complete, and list the steps.
  2. Use the steps to create a schedule. Use whatever form of schedule works for your child, like a picture essay, task list, or video model.
  3. Use timers or alarms to signal when the schedule will begin or to allot a certain time to a step.
  4. Refer to the schedule throughout the routine. Provide praise or other reinforcement for completing steps.
  5. Be consistent. Complete every step of the routine every time.

Again, this model for creating and maintaining a routine with individuals with autism can be used in any setting, not just the home. 

5. Implementation of Visually-based Cues

According to the Autism Speaks organization, the visually-based cues that are a part of the TEACCH method are designed to supplement the verbal information provided by an educator, caregiver, or therapist. The visual information could be written on paper or on a computer. It could also be drawings or graphics, such as a picture of a shirt on a bin so that the child knows that shirts go in the bin.

Visuals are quite helpful for children with autism, especially those who are not verbal or not as verbal as others. Visuals can be used for any reason, such as when going over expectations, as reminders, for students to use when asking for a break, to allow students to express their feelings, to show that it is time to change activities, or as a behavior incentive. 

Conclusion to Key Principles of the TEACCH Method

A person who wants to work with children who have autism should understand each of these five major principles of the TEACCH method. While this method might not be the best one for every child who has autism, it is still a useful tool to know, and it could be a good one to try before moving on to other education and behavioral modification techniques. Familiarity with these five key principles of the TEACCH method is essential to educators, psychologists, and others who work with children who are on the autism spectrum.

Brittany Cerny

Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University

Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University

Updated September 2021

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