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Autism: An Instructional Challenge

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As parents and teachers struggle to address the needs of a growing population of students with Autism, a number of guiding principles are emerging, mostly from recent medical research findings. The following questions address these recent research findings.

Question 1. Medical or instructional expertise?

While the diagnostic and identification practices are clearly a medical domain, most treatment practices, at present, require instructional interventions.

Question 2. One intervention for all?

While students with Autism display some common diagnostic attributes, there is extensive variability in the range and severity of the different behaviors needing to be addressed and prevented. This range and severity of student behaviors requires a range of interventions. Many of the instructional interventions will have value for other students with and without disabilities.

Question 3. Widely applicable effective practices?

There are widely applicable instructional practices that have proven effective over time. A research summary from 1999 has documented a number of general considerations that are consistent with the recent research. The research summary conclusions stated: “Students with Autism are, first and foremost, students. They have many more similarities to other students than they do differences. Although some students with Autism present genuine instructional challenges, they learn with appropriate, systematic, and individualized practices.” A major addition to this summary, based on the recent research, stresses the increased importance of early, intensive, instructional intervention.

Question 4. What is the first priority in planning instruction?

The effectiveness of instruction depends on both the quality and quantity of instruction. Will the planned program provide extensive time (the quantity) in interventions that successfully address specific student needs (the quality)? In a typical school calendar, approximately six hours are spent at school each school day. Researchers reported that, for the average student, less than 20% of the school time, or approximately 60 minutes per day, are spent successfully engaged in curriculum tasks. A well-planned and well-implemented instructional program can ensure that at least 80% of the available school day is spent successfully engaged in curriculum tasks that address specific student needs. Making best use of available instructional time must be the first priority in planning.


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