Autism Spectrum Disorders Essay Example

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Teaching in schools with Autism Spectrum Disorders 15

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Teaching in schools with Autism Spectrum Disorders


The American Psychiatric Association has defines Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a group of disorders that are characterized by social interaction impairment, deficit in communication and repetitive and restricted behavioral patterns. The diagnosis of ASD in the past has been considered as deficits in affective connection although currently social behavior impairment has been suggested the main feature of ASD. The social impairments vary from one individual to the other and include poor joint attention, impaired eye gaze, inappropriate acquisition of age- correspondent friendships and minimal verbal initiations (Owen-DeSchryver et al, 2008). In general, it is a developmental disability that is complex and usually affects how an individual communicates and relates with others.

As educationists, the major concern is the fact that individuals with ASD portray difficulties in generalizing learned skills in different settings. They also tend to have difficulties in using the newly acquired skills when novel people or materials are present. As a result, in 2001 the national research council gave a recommendation that learners diagnosed with ASD should be taught skills in contexts that are natural and where same skills would be used (Owen-DeSchryver et al, 2008). The focus in this paper is to give a guide line on what to offer a neuro-typical student at school, the additional knowledge or skills that should be given to a student with ASD – Dyad of impairment and how the students with these impairments should be taught – Using evidence –based practices.

What a neuro-typical student be taught at school

The term neural-typical is used to refer to children who are not disabled developmentally. These children are therefore able to process a great deal of nuanced social information that otherwise children with Autistic spectrum cannot. Ideally, the vision for providing primary education to nurture children in all dimensions of their lives- morally, spiritually, emotionally, imaginatively socially, aesthetically, physically and cognitively (Sansosti & Powel-Smith, 2008). Primary school curriculum observes children’s uniqueness as is expressed in their individual intelligence, personality, and developmental potential. The curriculum is therefore set to cater for the needs present by individual child hence enriches the lives of these children and also lays foundation for gladness and accomplishment in their future education and in their adult life (Government of Ireland, 1999).

The curriculum also recognizes that children grow within a society and that they are a component of the society. As a result children’s development is deeply affected by how they relate with significant others at home and in the society at large. The curriculum therefore puts into account the above aspects of children’s life and tries to balance personal and social development through appreciating that different life aspects complement each other. As a result, children are taught how to work with others in a cooperative manner. The principles incorporated in the curriculum include child development in a full and harmonious way the importance of respecting individual differences, the importance of boosting activity as well as discovery methods, the integrated nature of the curriculum and the importance of integrating learning that is environmental-based (Government of Ireland, 1999).

Relevant issues that are tackled in neural-typical primary/elementary schools include offering quality education, boosting literacy and numeracy, incorporating life’s spiritual dimensions, teaching the European as well as the global elements of modern living. It also teaches pluralism as a way of respecting diversity and also helps to embrace tolerance. The curriculum also contributes to equality and fairness in accessing education (Government of Ireland, 1999). In England, the curriculum offers various subjects such as English, Mathematics, Science, Art and Design, Computing, Design and Technology, Geography, History, Languages, Music and Physical Education (Gov.UK, 2013).

The additional knowledge or skills a student with ASD needs to be taught

Dyad of impairment? (Additional – special education)

It has been noted that all the people presenting with ASD do experience difficulties associated with dyad of impairments. The dyad includes communication difficulties, difficulties in social understanding and compromised imagination and thought flexibility. Consequently, teachers who are in charge of children with ASD should make an imaginative dive into the world view of these children so as to be of help to them.

Social Communication

It is important to understand that these children have impaired social communication which may present as outlined below. The ASD children’s spoken language may be formal and pedantic- no language. Their voice may be void of expression and one may fail to understand the implications of various tones of voices. They may also have challenges in understanding and using communication that is non-verbal. These children may also have difficulties in reading and understanding gestures, facial expressions, vocal intonation and body language. They also have the tendency of taking things literally and have inability to comprehend implied meaning (Rogers & Vismara, 2008). These children in most cases are socially isolated, and develop anxiety resulting from others’ social demands. They also have difficulties in reading social cues. They fail to understand the cognitions and the emotions of others hence tend to behave in social ways that are inappropriate. In most cases, they fail to establish and maintain friendships because they appear insensitive and egocentric. They often cause offence without their knowledge since they may not have the skills of handling other people’s feelings (Odom, 2004).

Teachers handling children with ASD should therefore teach skills that will enhance social interaction skills. This is important because these skills are critical to cognitive and emotional as well as in successful social development. In addition, effective social skills aid in eliciting positive reactions as well as evaluations from peers due to the fact that they enable one to engage in behaviors that are socially approvable. There are multiple techniques that are applied in teaching social skills specifically boosting recognition of emotions and affects, conversation skills, theory of mind, as well as bullying or teasing. The above areas of focus are mostly in children with high functioning autism or with Asperger’s Syndrome. Other skills do focus on insufficiency in joint attention, imitation, drafted and non-drafted social vocalizations, peer relationships, eye contact, as well as interpersonal, emotional and motivational responsiveness especially with younger children (Odom, 2004).

Social Thinking Approach

For social interaction to be effective, one must have effective social cognition. Social thinking approach emphasizes training children presenting with ASD to acquire appropriate social thinking which results in successful social interactions. This approach teaches behaviors that are associated with mind-blindness also referred to as theory- of-mind deficits. The approach uses the following principles. One, it addresses the significance of understanding the thoughts o others as well as realizing the link between utilization of social skills and understanding social knowledge. Unlike, the behavioral model, this approach does not give tangible consequences or reinforcements as a way of eliciting desirable behavior. Instead the teachers give visual or verbal feedback while practicing skill. Secondly, the abstract concepts are made clear and concrete through use of visual structures as a means of enhancing communication or interaction. Lastly, when generalizing skills, instructions addressing peer or self awareness should incorporate familiar life occurrences into the skill being taught. Also giving feedback and highlighting are encouraged as a way of promoting skill generalization (Mundy, 2009).

Some examples of social thinking approach includes the use of thought bubbles as a way of presenting other people’s thoughts, the use of social thinking curricular, incorporation of social thinking strategies into learning activities as a way of encouraging generalization and teaching specific strategies like emotion cognition and perspective taking (Rogers & Vismara, 2008).


Unlike other children, those presenting with ASD have impaired imaginations. In most cases they portray play that is repetitive or restricted and may get engaged in behaviors that are stereotypical such as spinning and rocking. They also have challenges in differentiating fantasy from reality. In addition, they express difficulties with organization, planning, cause and outcome. When it comes to changing what they are used to, they express difficulties in adjusting to new environments, objects or people (Koegel et al, 2009).

How we could teach these students given these impairments.

(Using evidence –based practices)

Teachers should put in mind that children presenting with ADS require individually tailored interventions that meet their unique individual’s needs. Actually it should be noted that there is no universal intervention which has been demonstrated as being effective in assisting all children diagnosed with ASD. Therefore, teachers and parents should work together so as to identify empirically valid techniques for every child. There are several interventions discussed below that have been identified as effective in teaching children with ASD by the national development center on ASD (Sticher, 2009).


This is a teaching strategy that is behaviorally-based where learners are guided on how to complete activities or tasks. Different levels of prompting vary depending on the amount and the type of assistance that the children are being given. For instant, physical prompts may be given through touching the learner and usually on the hand and then guiding them. Prompting may also be verbal where learners are given extra verbal instructions. A teacher is seen to verbally prompt every step involved in accomplishing a task. For instance, a learner may be directed to wipe a table by giving prompts like “stand up, pick the duster, move to the table and wipe the table”. Gesture prompts like pointing are also used to give nonverbal cues to learners concerning the next move to be made (Odom, 2004).

Time Delay

This technique involves either fading the use of prompt or as a way of preventing learners from being dependent on prompts. The teacher delays for a period of time that has been predetermined, typically within 5-10 seconds after giving instructions before prompting the answer. For instant, a learner who has been dependent on verbal prompts in accomplishing a task, the teacher may apply a time delay tactic by waiting for several seconds before giving any further prompts.


This is a behavioral principle that is core in behavior modification. Usually, it involves anything done or said to increase the likelihood of behavior reoccurrence. In most cases, reinforcement comes in form of positive appraisal for the accomplished task. This makes one feel more accepted hence there is the tendency to have the behavior repeated.

Task Analysis and Chaining

This teaching technique involves breaking down a task (task analysis) into shorter steps and then guiding the learner to accomplish every step until the whole task is completed. The technique is more applicable in physical or routine tasks such as self-care. Chaining involves helping the learner to connect the various steps I accomplishing a task. The teacher can decide to take either forward chaining (start to finish) or use backward chaining (finish to start and then teaching the reverse). The decision is dependent the task being undertaken and also on the characteristics of the learner to whom the technique is being applied on (Koegel et al, 2009).

This involves giving reinforcements on successive approximations towards attaining a desired behavior. This helps the learner to reach a more appropriate level in attaining the desired skill. This technique is naturally used by parents and care givers on typically developing children. Children are praised for performing some tasks like feeding or dressing themselves even though they don’t do it to perfection. With time, the parents or care givers only praise the children for actually completing the task in a perfect way. This technique is very useful while handling learners who have the tendency of giving up easily or those who are far from becoming proficient in a particular skill.

Computer Assisted Instruction

This involves the use of computers in teaching. Research has shown effectiveness in the use of computer assisted instruction in teaching communication/language, mathematics and reading including vocabulary building and spelling (Sansosti & Powel-Smith, 2008).

Differential Reinforcement of Alternative or Other Behaviors

In this technique, the teacher reinforces desired behaviors and ignores inappropriate ones. Usually, reinforcement is given when a learner does not get involved in the inappropriate behavior in question, when the learner get involved in particular appropriate behavior except the inappropriate behavior, or when the learner get involved in a behavior that otherwise would have been blocked by the inappropriate behavior in question.

Discrete Trial Teaching

This is an instructional approach that is one-to-one and teaches skills in manner that is planned, controlled as well as systematic. Discrete trial teaching is more appropriate while handling learners who require skills that are acquired best in short repeated steps. Usually, the short steps have a beginning and an end that is definite. While applying this technique, the teacher plans carefully the antecedents and consequences before implementing. The teacher usually gives positive praise occasionally with tangible rewards while reinforcing desired behaviors or skills. While using this technique, the teacher should collect data as it helps in decision making as it reflects on the learner’s start skill level, progress and challenges, skill acquisition and skill maintenance as well as in generalizing learned behaviors and skills (Koegel et al, 2009).


This strategy is applied in the reduction or elimination of unwanted behavior. It is founded on applied behavior analysis. Extinction involves an abrupt withdrawal or termination of the positive reinforcement that ideally maintains the targeted inappropriate behavior. The abrupt withdrawal leads to extinction or stopping of the unwanted behavior. Usually, before exaction there is likelihood of the targeted behavior being repeated more frequently and in an increased intensity as the learner tries to elicit the reinforcement that was being received before. In most cases, extinction technique is applied together with differential reinforcement as a way of increasing a learner’s involvement in appropriate behaviors while at the same time discouraging involvement in behaviors that are inappropriate (Sticher, 2009).

Functional Behavioral Assessment

This is a technique that involves a systematic means of determining the purpose or function that motivates a behavior so that an appropriate intervention plan can be developed. Functional behavioral assessment involves describing the problem behavior, identification of the antecedent and the consequent occurrences that maintains and control the behavior as well as coming up with a hypothesis of the behavior and also testing the hypothesis. The technique also involves data collection (Koegel et al, 2009).

Functional Communication Training

This technique was developed in the mid 1980s based on the information on functional behavioral analysis. It is a systematic practice that replaces behavior that is ineffective or inappropriate and serves a communicative function with a more effective or more appropriate skill or behavior. It is commonly used in literature that is linked to positive behavioral support. In this technique, the behavior in question is analyzed so as to determine the underlying communicative function and an alternative behavior is then taught to replace the one in question. Similarly, the associated functional behavioral analysis identifies contingencies present in the natural environments/settings that may be sustaining the undesired behavior (Neef & Iwata, 1994).

Independent Work Systems

This skill promotes independence in children with ASD through organizing activities and tasks in a manner that is comprehensible to them. Particularly, work systems are organized into sequences that are visually structured and which allow the practice of skills, activities and concepts that have been previously learned. The independent work system communicate in a very clear way which activities need to be completed, the number of activities to be completed, how to know that a task has been completed and what should be done after the task has been completed.

Naturalistic Interventions

These techniques are much similar to typical interactions and takes place in naturally occurring routines, settings and activities. The naturalistic interventions are more of learner-centered because the learner gets involved in an active role in determining several aspects persons involved as well as the materials being used (Odom, 2004).

Peer-Mediated Intervention/Instruction

This technique is designed to promote social engagement between people with ASD and those without the disorder. The peers are enlightened on how to initiate and maintain communication with children with ASD. It also increases the frequency of interacting while engaging in classroom activities while minimizing the dependency on teachers’ support (Koegel, 1995).

Picture Exchange Communication System

This technique is used in helping children as well as youths with ASD in forming a system for interacting with peers, teachers and parents. Picture exchange communication system was developed as an alternative interaction system that promotes speech production and development. Usually there are six phases in this technique and each builds on the previous one. The phases include coaching the physically aided exchange, expanding spontaneity, discrimination of pictures simultaneously, building sentence structure, reacting to “what is wanted” and making comments in response to a question (Koegel, 1995).

Self Management

Here the learners learn how to monitor and collect data related to their own behavior. The technique is more appropriate in older high- functioning learners with capacity to reflect on their actions. Self management may involve monitoring one’s activity level, concentration, alertness, and problematic behaviors (Odom, 2004).

Stimulus Control or Environmental Modification

In this technique, the teachers manipulate aspects of the environment that have some effects on learner’s behavior. For instant, if a teacher knows that a particular learner may wish to access learning materials on their own, then he/she should ensure that they are kept in a location that is obvious and where they can be easily accessed. In case where the teacher knows that a learner may tantrum in the presence of fluorescent lights, then lighting should be changed (Neef & Iwata, 1994).


Autism syndrome disorder is a condition that is very common globally and there is a sustained increase in the number of children who are diagnosed with this condition. Educationists have developed means of addressing the needs presented by children who present with this condition. These children have impaired learning and therefore need specialized attention. Teachers have been necessitated to acquire additional skills that make their services delivery sufficient to these children. In most cases children with ASD join public schools while others join special school. What is of great significance is the availability of specialized approach towards meeting the needs presented by these children in whatever setting. Teachers in whichever setting should have special training so that they can effectively teach these children.


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