The program TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication related Handicapped CHildren) is a comprehensive approach to teaching children with a broad range of autistic characteristics. Research has shown its highly structured system to be effective in improving daily living skills.
The Creation of TEACCH
The TEACCH approach was created in the early 1960s to involve paraprofessionals and untrained workers, including parents as “co-therapists". Eric Schopler, the creator of the program was a child psychologist and himself a parent of an autistic child. He believed that parents needed to function as “co-therapists" and collaborators in the treatment and education of their children, including children with severe disorders. Schopler’s work showed that most autistic children did not suffer from mental illness and that given the right program they could overcome their neurological disorders. In 1972 the TEACCH program was adopted statewide in North Carolina schools and state funded clinics continue to operate there.
The TEACCH Methodology
The TEACCH method focuses on creating a highly structured, consistent and organized environment with clear visual information so that the children are able to follow their daily schedule of activities. The activities are individualized according to the child’s strengths and interests with the focus on visual strategies since these are usually a strength for children with autism.
The environment is designed to provide natural consequences and reinforcement upon task completion and parents are expected to carry over the program at home. The main goal of TEACCH is to help children develop independence and autonomy as adults by acquiring communication and social skills and by being able to make life choices. Detailed evaluations try to identify potential areas for skill development. The theory is that as the child better understands his or her predictable environment and communicates, anxiety will decrease and they will be better able to cope, learn and grow to be autonomous. Direct behavior modification may also be used when other strategies do not work to eliminate severe behavior problems.
Efficacy of TEACCH
According to the authors of Autism: A Comprehensive Occupational Therapy Approach (Kuhaneck & Watling, 2010), a variety of studies compared the effects of a TEACCH-based home program implemented by parents with a control group. They found that children in the TEACCH intervention group improved more in imitation, fine and gross motor and cognitive performance.
An Italian study compared a group of children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who attended regular schools (with supports) with a significantly cognitively impaired group who received TEACCH training while residing in an institution. The study lasted for one year. The TEACCH group improved more than the control group in personal daily living, play and leisure skills, but not in communication and social skills.
Further research comparing TEACCH-trained children in a home based versus residential setting indicated that the home-based program children scored significantly higher than those in both the residential setting and the control group. In addition the children receiving TEACCH training in the residential setting scored better than those in the control group. Although these studies are limited in scope, they appear to support the efficacy of TEACCH for autism.