skill area are established by the many early childhood assessment tools. The skills that a child demonstrates (“passes” on the assessment tools) indicate the child’s current developmental level. As part of goal development for a child, failed or partially accomplished items then become the targets of teaching.
A developmental approach to teaching generally refers to a child-centered approach (child leads, adult follows) that uses materials and tasks that fit a child’s developmental level in a particular area. Materials are provided to the child, and the child’s behavior with the materials is scaffolded by the teacher along the lines of the targeted developmental skill. Children’s behaviors and initiative with materials guide the adult, who may use modeling or demonstration, prompting, or hand-over-hand instruction. Children’s preferences guide the selection of materials; adults provide support and encourage, but do not require, that materials are used and activities are carried out in the desired way. Rather than adult-supplied consequences for certain behaviors, internal, naturally occurring reinforcers are assumed to provide the motivation for learning. An example of an internal reinforcer is a sense of mastery and efficacy in functioning (e.g., pleasure in completing a puzzle).
Augmentative and alternative strategies use assistive devices that provide a symbolic communication system other than speech (as described in Chapter 5). Examples are the use of visual systems like the Picture Exchange System, visual schedules, computerized communication systems, and manual language in place of verbal language. Although there are sometimes concerns voiced by parents and teachers that using an augmentative or alternative strategy may prevent a child with an autistic spectrum disorder from developing more conventional skills in that area (e.g. using manual signs might slow the acquisition of speech), there is no empirical evidence that demonstrates a negative result from using alternative strategies. Rather, there is some evidence that alternative strategies may assist development in some areas (Bondy and Frost, 1994).
Current practices in education of young children with autistic spectrum disorders generally support the tailored use of alternative and augmentative communication strategies, where appropriate, to facilitate participation in the educational environment by some children with autistic spectrum disorders. While some educational approaches gain maximal participation with carefully structured teaching and without much use of alternative or augmentative systems (e.g., the Walden preschool program), other approaches emphasize the use of strategies such as schedules or picture systems, along with many other methods to assist children with autism (e.g., the TEACCH program [Treatment and Education of