How can you create an autism early intervention setting at home using the TEACCH concept? Why is TEACCH so well-suited for use at home? What particular value does it have for children with autism disorders?
When our son was three and a half years old, we finally received the diagnosis “early childhood autism” (autism-spectrum-disorder, ASD). Until then it had been a long and difficult journey. He did not speak, and was barely interacting with us, his sister, and other people. Communicative and also motoric deficits became increasingly obvious in his development. Facing the situation and not knowing what to do made it more and more exhausting and frustrating for us as parents. When he was almost four years old, we got access to an Autism Therapy Center, which was specially designed for early intervention in preschool. This was a great blessing for us, as all other instituations – whether medical or pedagogical could not help us as they had no competence in this field.
What went different in the autism treatment center
After the first few hours of therapy, we were very surprised at how natural the therapists were with our son. Before we had experienced that it was very difficult for strangers to communicate with our son. For the therapist in the autism center this was not the case. She devoted herself to our child with a great deal of patience, love and above all serenity. To our great astonishment, we realized that she quickly found a good, playful way of dealing with our son at eye level. After a few sessions, we received our first homework assignment. Doing this homework and continuously learning from it literally changed our world! Suddenly we got tools to play and interact with our child, which increasingly helped him develop his skills in various fields. What was special and different about it, than everything what we have experienced before, was that we were able to see great progress in the development of its capabilities after only a few weeks. The methods we learned were based on the TEACCH concept. This is a promotional methodology designed specifically for people with autism spectrum disorder. In special education, it is used primarily in the early stages of support. However, it can also be used very effectively later.
What is TEACCH and how can it be applied?
TEACCH stands for “Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children”. The TEACCH principle is applied to the current individual promotion of personal development taking into account the child’s own needs, strengths and weaknesses. So it is a methodology that creates conditions in both a playful and therapeutic setting that are useful and beneficial for the child.
TEACCH has two essential components:
1. Structured teaching
An essential aspect is the spatial and temporal structuring, as well as the design of the game material. This is ultimately not only related to the game situation, but also on the entire everyday life. With this help, children have access to building individual situations and their everyday life very early on. This promotes a sense of security and competence. Examples of the spatial structuring:
Place names, room dividers (eg shelves), carpets that mark certain areas, curtains, lines on floors, assignment of objects to specific places, pictures and labels Examples of the temporal structuring: Ringing, signals, words, start and end routine, clocks, schedules in the appropriate level of abstraction Structured material and instructions: Design of the work surface, visual instructions (stencils, image sequences, examples), arrangement of the material in marked material containers
People and children with autism have special skills in the perception and processing of information and visual stimuli. If these strengths are utilized, people with autism can flourish in almost any field.
For example, visual support helps children with autism to effectively promote language and eye contact. Even structures of time and space are thus opened up to the child in a very practical way.
Room: Clarification of the function of the places: In the room by visual barriers (eg shelves), which demarcate the individual areas (work, break, etc.); mark the individual areas with symbols or objects (eg headphones for rest area, room signage for orientation); Sign for shelves / cabinets with photos / symbols (eg also for jacket, shoes, cap) Time: Visually vividly designed daily plans make it easier to adjust to deviations from the normal procedure (eg rain break); Time-Timer (the remaining time (eg for a certain work) is represented by a decreasing area)
Action: Visually clarify where something is located and / or has its place (eg table set with plate, glass, cutlery imprint as a guide to the table cover); visualize short actions visually (eg the individual steps of hand washing, tying shoes) At this point, we would like to express explicitly from our experience how the framework conditions of TEACCH helped us to find a structure for the early intervention at home, which was helpful in dealing with our own child.
We are not trained educators ourselves. But we are convinced that when we start parents to work with the child at home and let ourselves be supported by the methods presented, then the greatest potential for the further development of their own child is released. Tasks to work on TEACCH will help your child in a fun way to improve and expand his cognitive and emotional skills and hand-hand coordination. However, there are no finished TEACCH materials.
Some helpful examples for creating structured teaching and visualization tools
We would like to show you a few (self-made) examples:
Workbooks that train colors, shapes and numbers with picture cards are very effective. In this short video tutorial, see how a booklet can become a TEACCH task:
One example for training cognitive skills is this:
On the backside of a simple picture frame glue a set of hexagon screws. The corresponding nuts from this set have to be placed in a small cosmetic jar. The child has the task to put the nuts which are inside the jar onto the srews (all the way down).
This task is very efficient especially for children with developmental delay in the fine motor area, especially at an early age. Motor skills and patience are practiced. The given frame helps the child to recognize the default (for example, the can is empty and all the nuts on the screws, the task is done).
It reads and sounds very simple. However, it really depends on the implementation. We did this job with our son at least two to three times a week with huge improvement of using his fingers.
For the visualization of our everyday life the pictured weekly calendar is used for years. This is now on the cabinet in the hallway. The plan should hang in a central location. Ideal places are, for example, the refrigerator, the front door or the passage door to the hallway. It should definitely be central.
This calendar shows all weekly activities with picture cards. As an example we have presented it clearly with the cards for “Kindergarten”, “Therapy”, “Gymnastics”, “Shopping”, “Riding” and “Excursion”. The white dot at the top left of “Tuesday” signals the child the current day. Prior to each activity should be the image of the child. Note: On Sunday, the whole family is in the car at “excursion”.
The picture cards can be printed out from online resources with easy clipboards for every day activities. As these are going to be used frequently, make sure the cards and the background get laminated thermal laminator
As far as our simple everyday examples of domestic intervention according to the TEACCH system. All you need to do it to your child is the material, motivation and patience. It will certainly not succeed immediately. But: you learn together with your child! The method is just a tool to get you and your child on a communication level. You will both learn to use these tools profitably. If you have further questions, please let us know via comment on this blog page. You can also send us your questions in the registration form.
This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)