There has been a dramatic worldwide increase in reported cases of autism over the past decade. Today, autism spectrum conditions affect approximately 1 to 2 % of the school-age population. Mental health professionals, educators, and policy makers recognize that educational programs are essential to providing effective services to children with ASD. Behavioral and educational interventions are currently the benchmark interventions for autism. However, educators are faced with some unique challenges. Children with autism have intellectual and academic profiles that can differ to a large degree. No two children are alike. As a result, no one program exists that will meet the needs of every child with autism. Additionally, children with autism learn differently than typical peers or children with other types of developmental disabilities. To meet the needs of the individual child, it is critical to examine the child’s strengths, weaknesses and unique needs when determining the appropriate educational placement and developing a program of special services. While the components of intervention programs might vary, it is generally agreed that program intensity combined with early identification can lead to substantial improvement in child functioning. The following are key components of a comprehensive educational program for students with ASD.
• An effective, comprehensive educational program should reflect an understanding and awareness of the challenges presented by autism.
• Parent-professional communication and collaboration are key components for making educational and treatment decisions.
• On-going training and education in autism are important for both parents and professionals. Professionals who are trained in specific methodology and techniques will be most effective in providing the appropriate services and in modifying curriculum based upon the unique needs of the individual child.
• Inclusion with typically developing peers is important for a child with ASD as peers provide the best models for language and social skills. However, inclusive education alone is insufficient, empirically-based intervention and training is also necessary to address specific skill deficits.
• Assessment and progress monitoring of a student with ASD should be completed at specified intervals by an interdisciplinary team of professionals who have a knowledge base and experience in autism.
• A comprehensive IEP should be based on the child’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses. Goals for a child with ASD commonly include the areas of communication, social behavior, adaptive skills, challenging behavior, and academic and functional skills. The IEP must address appropriate instructional and curricular modifications, together with related services such as counseling, occupational therapy, speech/language therapy, physical therapy and transportation needs. Transition goals must also be developed when the student reaches 16 years of age.
• Teaching social skills in the setting (classroom) in which they naturally occur is the most effective approach and helps the generalization of the skills to new environments.
• No single methodology is effective for all children with autism. Generally, it is best to integrate scientifically validated approaches according to a child’s needs and responses.
Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, CCBT, NCSP is author of the award-winning book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
© Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD