Students with an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, think, learn, and process information differently from most of their peers. Beyond the facts and figures of subjects like math and language arts, there's an enormous amount of data that students must pay attention to, interpret, organize, and act upon. Students with ASD also need to observe what's going on around them and plan and monitor their own actions and responses â€” while functioning in an overwhelming sea of sensory information.
But students with ASD may have more difficulty pulling the most important information from the chaotic environment of that sensory sea. It can be a struggle to make sense of the moment â€” to make decisions about what to do and then to act on their decisions in that moment. Structured teaching is a key evidence-based intervention strategy designed to address these issues.
What is Structured Teaching
Structured teaching was pioneered by the TEACCH Autism Program at the University of North Carolina in the 1970s and 1980s. Today it is a widely-used intervention strategy that uses structure in the classroom to help students with ASD understand where to be, what to do, and how to do it, all as independently as possible.
Key Practices of Structured Teaching
Individualized Visual Daily Schedules - Teachers design the schedule to fit individual student skills and needs. When practiced consistently and creatively, that schedule becomes the foundation to help students organize their internal experience and perceive the big picture of each day. The specific directions make expectations clear, and the daily visual reminder helps the student remember the expected routine. The schedule helps students experience transitions with greater ease, handle changes in the anticipated routine, and gain overall meaning from daily activities.
Organized Physical Environments and Work Systems -Organizing the physical environment involves identifying distinct areas by visually clarifying where specific activities take place and making accommodations for sensory sensitivities. Organized work systems teach students to complete activities and assignments independently, without constant prompting from teachers and paraeducators. Organized work systems provide answers to four key questions in a visual manner:
How much work am I supposed to do?
Which work am I supposed to do?
How do I know when I'm finished?
What comes next?
Structured Tasks and Activities - When teachers create specific structure within tasks and activities, they help students with ASD acquire and practice independent work skills. This is also a way to help tailor each student's academic experience to his or her unique abilities. There are many ways to contain tasks, organize materials, keep students engaged in activities, and provide visual instructions that, when used together, help students work independently, relying on their own abilities and strengths.