Autism spectrum disorder is a condition with a wide range of symptoms and degrees of severity. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some children are only mildly impaired, while others find themselves severely disabled by their symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately one in 68 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Although the manifestation of symptoms is unique for each child, they generally fall into three categories: social, communicative, and behavioral. The increased prevalence combined with the broad needs of these learners means various professionals are needed.
Special Education Teachers
Children with autism are entitled to services and protections described in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. If after being evaluated, the child is found to be eligible for services through IDEA, the school district must provide “free and appropriate public education,” which includes services that help meet the child’s educational needs. However, state laws vary and some students who are mildly impacted by their autism may not qualify for special education services.
Special educators are responsible for providing effective interventions, among other responsibilities, that are critical for improving the outcomes of learners with ASD. Most special educators work in public schools, but may be employed in other roles. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that special education teachers also work in private educational facilities, child care services, and other non-governmental organizations.
According to IDEA, however, “special education is not a place,” as children with autism frequently need other services to aid their classroom education, and this may require other types of trained professionals to provide them.
Structured and timely evidence-based and scientifically supported educational interventions and supports provided by qualified educators consistently produce effective and cost-efficient outcomes for learners with autism.
The CDC explains applied behavior analysis is an intervention that “encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors in order to improve a variety of skills.” Applied behavior analysis is the most researched method of all autism treatment models and relies on a variety of strategies and methods to support social, communication, and academic skills. The techniques are widely used in both clinical and educational settings. These professionals might deliver applied behavior analytic interventions in various models of instruction including
- Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention: teaching preschool children using applied behavior analysis for 20-40 hours per week; often integrates discrete trial teaching.
- Discrete Trial Training: teacher-directed model that uses very precise cues and feedback to increase specific behaviors.
- Pivotal Response Training: child-led model that capitalizes on student motivation to teach skills that produce collateral benefits in other areas of development.
- Verbal Behavior Intervention: teaching communication skills such as initiating requests and commenting.
As an occupational therapist, you can have the joy of teaching an autistic child to live as independently as possible. According to the CDC, these “skills might include dressing, eating, bathing and relating to people.”
Many children with ASD need speech therapists to help develop and strengthen communication skills. The NIMH reported that children with ASD often have delayed verbal skills. The CDC reports that approximately 40 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder do not speak. These learners may have difficulty understanding the back-and-forth nature of communication, combining single words into a sentence, and using other forms of communication such as gestures and sign language. Speech therapist might teach verbal or other forms of communication, such as using picture boards, voice output communication devices, or gestures.