curricula. Now, both academic and nonacademic goals must be considered against the background of “standards-based educational reform,” according to which educators will increasingly become accountable for establishing and meeting goals that are challenging for students at all levels of disability, while allowing for individual adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities (see National Research Council [1997] for a detailed discussion of the implications of standards-based reform for students with disabilities).

As discussed in Chapter 12, most comprehensive early education programs for children with autistic spectrum disorders share similar goals across a range of areas (Handleman and Harris, 2000), though the emphasis placed by the different programs may differ. These areas include social and cognitive development, verbal and nonverbal communication, adaptive skills, increased competence in motor activities, and amelioration of behavior difficulties. Specific issues within each of these areas are discussed in individual chapters of this report. However, often areas overlap. For example, communication involves both social and representational skills. In addition, priorities change as children develop. Yet challenges in making skills truly useful in terms of spontaneity and generalizability across environments are significant across all areas.


Research on the effectiveness of early interventions and on the course of development of autistic spectrum disorders provides some insight into the complexities of the selection of appropriate goals for education in autism. For example, is a therapy addressing a reasonable goal if its primary aim is getting a child with autism to play or to match similar objects? Is it worth the expense and time of the child and parent to drive across town once a week or the disruption for a child to be taken out of class by a therapist in order to meet either of these goals? Generally, outcome research has studied the effectiveness of programs, not the appropriateness of various goals. Thus, the question of whether play or matching can be taught is different from—and can be more easily answered than—the question of whether or when they should or should not be taught.

Educational objectives must be based on specific behaviors targeted for planned interventions. However, one of the questions that arises repeatedly, both on a theoretical and on a clinical basis, is how specific a link has to be between a long-term goal and a behavior targeted for intervention. Some targeted behaviors, such as toilet training or acquisition of functional spoken language, provide immediately discernible practical benefits for a child and his or her family. However, in many other cases, both in regular education and specialized early intervention, the links

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