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TEACCH Autism Program: Structuring the Environment, Schedules and Work Systems.

I love the TEACCH Autism Program. It is a program I use every day. I completed the comprehensive course a few years ago when I was starting to work in an Autism Class in a mainstream school. Since then I have also worked as a Special Educational Teacher and have seen the benefits of using the TEACCH approaches for students I have been working with in both settings.

TEACCH stands for ‘Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children’. The TEACCH Autism Program was founded in the University of North Carolina, America. I completed in the training through the SESS (Special Education Support Service). You need to register and complete the 2 Day Introductory TEACCH Course first and then you can register for the 5 Day TEACCH Course with the SESS. Both courses can be difficult to get a place on but they are without a doubt the most beneficial courses I have done to date about teaching in a class for children with Autism. During the 5 Day TEACCH Course, 4/5 children of varying needs and abilities are brought in from local schools. A mini classroom area is set up to suit that child to showcase how the different components of TEACCH work and can be used with different children. The children spend the week in this classroom instead of going to school. There is an application form sent to local schools and parents ahead of the course. Here is a link to a calendar of SESS run courses:

https://www.sess.ie/professional-development/calendar/asd

Currently all courses are postponed. If you would like to know more about TEACCH in the meantime, their website has both free and paid online learning courses:

Online Learning Opportunities

Structured ‘TEACCHing’

Some of the main components of the TEACCH Autism Program are: Structure in the Environment, Schedules and Work Systems.  

Structure in the Environment

The structure of the learning environment is the foundation of the TEACCH program. If you can visit other classrooms to see the way they have laid out their rooms it is very beneficial to get some ideas for your own class. There is no set template for setting up your classroom, it depends completely on your own resources and the needs/interests of the children in your class. The TEACCH program involves dividing the room into different areas helps to give meaningful context and a purpose to each area for the children. Examples of areas that could be in your classroom depending on the students’ needs and interests are: lunch, group-work, leisure, play, reading, sensory. I have included some images below of the layout of my classroom and some ideas from Pinterest posts to show some ideas of layouts.

Important points to consider when deciding the layout of the class are: boundaries and distractions.

What will you use as boundaries? I find physical boundaries work best when you are starting out. You could use purpose-made partitions or natural boundaries e.g. bookshelves. Some classes use tape on the ground for children who are used to boundaries or for higher functioning children.

Which areas need distractions to be limited? I try to limit distractions in any areas the children will be completing work e.g. teacher 1:1 work area, group table work area, independent work area. This can be done by ensuring the area doesn’t have too much visual input e.g. posters or displays. Or that it isn’t near a window or door which leads to a noisy area.

Schedules

Schedules are without a doubt my favourite component of the TEACCH Autism Program. Mainly because I have seen how beneficial they are to the children that use them. Teaching a child to use a schedule is an important life skill that helps to promote independence and help the child to navigate their way around their classroom or school building. It also prepares them for reading timetables in their environment when they are older. There are different types of schedules that are used in the TEACCH Program depending on your child’s needs and abilities. When choosing which schedule to use, Consider: ‘Can the child use it independently? (without an adult pointing or leading)’ and ‘Will it work for the child when they are stressed?’

Types of TEACCH schedules are: Object schedules, real photograph schedules, icon schedules, written list schedules and electronic list schedules. I have included examples of each schedule type in photos below. Schedules can also vary in length, depending a child’s ability/anxiety levels, for example I may only show them their schedule for part of their day from morning to break time to limit anxiety or stress about something happening later in the day or to avoid overloading the child with information to process. Starting off, a child could use a ‘First, Then’ board only and gradually move onto a longer schedule.

Work Systems

Work systems are used during tasks to give the children a clearer understanding of what they need to do. Successful work systems should answer 4 questions: 1. How much work is the student to do? 2. What activities/tasks is the student to do? 3. How does the student know when he/she is finished? 4. What will the student do next?  

There are different types of work systems that could be used depending on children’s abilities and needs. For example, left to right work system, matching work system or a written list work system.

Left to right work system: could include numbers 1 to 5 and a desired activity at the end.

Matching work system: could include images of a child’s favourite characters, they match the character to the work item (as shown in the picture) and there is a desired activity at the end.

Written List: could include times or it could include a checklist format so the child can feel a sense of achievement after completing a task.

When first introducing a work system and teaching a child how it works, I find using preferred activities and favourite characters/special interests works best. Start with one activity and build it up as the child becomes more comfortable with the structure.

I think work systems are so beneficial during small group and whole class activities as well as during independent tasks. For example, during ‘Circle Time’ I will put up the running order of the session e.g. News, Read Story, Songs, Yard. This definitely helps engagement as the children know exactly when their desired activity/song will happen, how much we will do during ‘Circle Time’, when ‘Circle Time’ will be over and what will happen afterwards. I use work systems when the children are making choices as a group, for example, song choices, I display the children’s pictures or names in order of who will choose a song next. I find the children are happier to listen to other people’s song choices when they know their turn is coming. Ensure to change the order of work systems regularly to make sure the children understand change within the structure. For example: so the child doesn’t get used to their turn always being 2nd.

In general, work systems help bring structure to an activity and develop the child’s independence. I also find work systems beneficial for reminding children of the steps in some everyday sequences they might have difficulty remembering. For example: How to wash hands, how to unpack bag.

Work systems help to bring a calm to the environment. Sometimes when we say something verbally to a child, they may not fully process it and need to ask again but when there is a visual support alongside or instead of the verbal instruction I have found that children have a better understanding of what is being asked of them.

Some other strategies that are included in the TEACCH Autism Program are Visual Structure within Activities and Routines and Strategies. TEACCH also focuses on expressive communication in children, leisure skills and social engagement, behaviour, coping skills and classroom management, preparing for the future, assessment and teaching.

Anyone working with a child with autism has the same long term goal in some form: Independence. The TEACCH Autism Program has systematic routines and strategies that help to maximise independence for the child throughout their school day. It is a program I have followed for about 5 years now and would highly recommend it to anyone working with children or young people with autism.

Thank you so much for reading this blog post, I hope this has been beneficial to you in some way. If anyone has any feedback, questions or would like to chat about it, I would love to hear from you.

Mo


If you are interested in any of the resources featured in this post, some are resources I have used in my own setting. Have a look on shop (linked below). I have posted some resources that I have found beneficial and use daily in my setting.

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