Even as the challenges associated with autism are persistent and far-reaching, there seems to be a growing number of evidence-based methods to undergird and strengthen autistic people to overcome the obstacles to a fulfilling life. The University of North Carolina has established a successful program called TEACCH, Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children.
The TEACCH program began in 1972, founded by Dr. Eric Schopler who was a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the UNC-Chapel Hill. During his time (1927-2006), he debunked the erroneous theory that parents were the cause of their child’s autism. He studied and learned the true neurological nature of autism, and through his vast empirical research, created an effective treatment program that would instead empower parents to be co-therapists in their autistic child’s development.
The TEACCH program is a strategic and intelligence approach to teaching and developing a child with ASD. The program, with a solid basis in dedicated research, takes into account the characteristic needs of an autistic person and addresses those needs so that learning can take place. As stated on their website,
“TEACCH developed the concept of the ‘Culture of Autism’ as a way of thinking about the characteristic patterns of thinking and behavior seen in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).”
Because structure is very important to a student on the autism spectrum, an effective TEACCH classroom environment would have labels to designate areas of a classroom to eliminate any confusion and thus, anxiety and behavioral responses to anxiety. Autistic people tend to process information visually. Using this knowledge to benefit the autistic learner, the TEACCH program improves communication skills by teaching these skills through visual aids.
The highly structured TEACCH program focuses on the autistic individual and conforms the environment and approach based on that individual’s needs, and likes and dislikes. An emphasis is placed on getting to know what motivates the student, what calms them, distracts them, and what techniques help the child learn the best. Teachers, parents, professionals, and a TEACCH psychologist are involved in customizing the best learning environment for the student with autism.
Additionally, the learning environment and the implementation of the TEACCH program are not limited to a regular classroom or special education room. The setting can be the cafeteria, foreign language class, the child’s home, the playground, camp, and any number of places. The goal is to develop the autistic person’s communication skills, academics, and social competence in a structured setting with the help of people who know them and their needs, and through this, to enable the autistic person to become independent and handle dynamic situations.