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Educating Children with Autism
be tied to that child’s and family’s needs. However, without direct evaluation, it is difficult to know which features are of greatest importance in a program. Across primarily preschool programs, there is a very strong consensus that the following features are critical:
entry into intervention programs as soon as an autism spectrum diagnosis is seriously considered;
active engagement in intensive instructional programming for a minimum of the equivalent of a full school day, 5 days (at least 25 hours) a week, with full year programming varied according to the child’s choronological age and developmental level;
repeated, planned teaching opportunities generally organized around relatively brief periods of time for the youngest children (e.g., 15– 20 minute intervals), including sufficient amounts of adult attention in one-to-one and very small group instruction to meet individualized goals;
inclusion of a family component, including parent training;
low student/teacher ratios (no more than two young children with autistic spectrum disorders per adult in the classroom); and
mechanisms for ongoing program evaluation and assessments of individual children’s progress, with results translated into adjustments in programming.
Curricula across different programs differ in a number of ways. They include the ways in which goals are prioritized, affecting the relative time spent on verbal and nonverbal communication, social activities, behavioral, academic, motor, and other domains. Strategies from various programs represent a range of techniques, including discrete trials, incidental teaching, structured teaching, “floor time”, and individualized modifications of the environment, including schedules. Some programs adopt a unilateral use of one set of procedures, and others use a combination of approaches. Programs also differ in the relative amount of time spent in homes, centers, or schools, when children are considered ready for inclusion into regular classrooms, how the role of peers as intervention agents is supported, and in the use of distraction-free or natural environments. Programs also differ in the credentials that are required of direct support and supervisory staff and the formal and informal roles of collateral staff, such as speech language pathologists and occupational therapists.
Overall, many of the programs are more similar than different in terms of levels of organization, staffing, ongoing monitoring, and the use of certain techniques, such as discrete trials, incidental learning, and structured teaching. However, there are real differences in philosophy and practice that provide a range of alternatives for parents and school systems considering various approaches. The key to any child’s educational program lies in the objectives specified in the IEP and the ways they are