Autism FAQ - Educational Methods

See also the comments below under "Controversies".

There are a number of methods & techniques used in the education of autistic children. Many teachers use a variety of combination of methods. Some teachers attempt to identify an individual student's learning style and modify curriculum and materials to suit the student's learning style. For example, many children with autism are visual learners. Teachers will use pictures, charts and visual representations when teaching. Materials developed for children with learning disabilities who are visual learners are often helpful. Teachers also use concrete materials (ie. Montessori materials) for students who learn well through their tactile senses.

A general comment: autistic people don't generalize very well, and one technique used to accommodate this is to give them the opportunities to practice skills in real situations, not mock-ups. Use real money to teach about money, use real foods to teach about food, cooking, and nutrition, use real public places (stores, libraries, etc) to teach about public behaviors.

Note: my division between "Treatment" and "educational methods" and placement of various activities among the two is far from a perfect system, e.g. where does FC go? Is it an educational method? So far, I'm just living with the imperfect system rather than trying to invent the logical catagories allows perfect classification of each approach/activity/treatment/educational method/etc.

Whole Language Therapy
Occupational Therapy
Physical Therapy
Motor Planning Therapy
Teacher Modelling
Peer Modelling
Mainstreaming (also called Inclusion or Integration)
Mainstreaming refers to teaching children with special needs in regular classes with other children. Teaching autistic children without the benefit of a specially-trained teacher and classroom tailored for such teaching was first attempted as a matter of necessity in small school systems with too few autistics to make it practical to set up specialized facilities. It was soon observed that autistics in such situations in general did better than autistics in tailored classrooms, and the policy of "mainstreaming" was born. Theory has it that separating autistics from a normal environment just exacerbates their problem. US law says that children with special needs must be educated with as little restriction as necessary and school systems have responded by placing autistics (and other children with special needs) in normal classrooms as much as practical.

Arguments for mainstreaming include better role models for autistic children, and increased opportunities for social interaction, and higher expectations by teachers. Arguments against include more opportunity for intense social skills training, more control over structure and routine, crucial factors in the education, training, and everyday lives of many autistic children.

In actual practice, few autistic children ever have the opportunity to be educated in classrooms tailored to autistics--the choice is often whether the autistic is mainstreamed, or in a "general-purpose special-education" classroom, known in the business as a "self-contained classroom".

some schools teach autistic children sign language if they are not developing speech. There is evidence that sign is easier than speech: children of deaf parents who learn sign through normal interaction usually start using it a bit earlier than other children start using speech. Also, some autistic children seem to pay attention to hands more than they do other people's faces.
Facilitated Communication (FC or F/C)
(a closely related term is: "Facilitated Communication Training", FCT) Another person (the "facilitator") holds the autistic's hand, allowing the autistic to decide which key on a keyboard to press or which letter or sign to touch. While computers are used for FC, often a letterboard or a "Canon Communicator" (a device portable device manufactured by Canon which is something like a "Brother labelmaker"; they were originally designed for people who could not talk but were known to be able to type, but they fit well with FC). The facilitator typically provides resistance to the arm and finger, leaving it to the autistic to push their hand and finger towards the right key. The technique was developed for people with severe physical handicaps, but was discovered to work with autistics and is now part of the education of many autistic children. It has met with a lot of success under the caveat that when you watch someone communicating this way, it is impossible to tell if it is the child who is communicating or if it is the facilitator. Critics suggest either that facilitators are faking it (but there are far too many otherwise credible educators who are successful facilitators to give this much credit) or that somehow the autistic person picks up the facilitators unconscious desires from minute hand movements. Tests have sometimes proved that facilitation resulted in real communication and sometimes that it did not.

One result of the use of Facilitated Communication is the use of it to elicit accusations of abuse. In cases where the only evidence of abuse is Facilitated Communication, the law and the courts have been forced to evaluate its effectiveness in individual cases. This has encouraged, even forced practicioners to start doing more rigorous testing of individuals to assure that they actually are saying what they appear to be saying.

The American Psychological Association adopted a resolution on Facilitated Communication that ended thusly: THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that APA adopts the position that facilitated communication is a controversial and unproved communicative procedure with no scientifically demonstrated support for its efficacy.

Daily Life Therapy
a method developed in Japan and imported into the USA. It includes elements normally found in the education of autistics, but places unusual attention to physical exercise. It has been said to have achieved "unprecedented results". The first school (Higashi School) to use this method was opened in Tokyo in 1964, and a school following the same principles was opened in Boston in 1987 (USA Higashi).
Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
a functional communication training approach that emphasizes teaching students to give a picture of something they desire to another person in exchange for that item. Pioneered by Andrew Bondy and Lori Frost of the Delaware Autistic Program. Considered a kind of augmentative communication.
Meyer-Johnson pictures
A set of pictures used for communication often used for augmentative communication.
Milieu Training
method of teaching language and social skills to children with disabilities.