Education is an important element in the process of healing and integration of children with autism. It should be noted that education should always be applied in a synchronous manner with therapy and treatment.
The role of education is crucial in solving problems of learning, comprehension, and interpretation, and in giving children practice in this direction. A specially designed training program is implemented for children with autism.
Autism education is divided into various stages. First, the profile of the child to be educated should be determined. Some children can be educated with other autism peers, while others need one-to-one education.
In addition, the process of preparing for education should always be one to one. The main aim of the training should be to consolidate the skills gained with therapy and to make the children learn and practice on their own.
The education of children with autism is not only limited to school or individual therapies, but it is a twenty-four-hour process that should continue in all areas of life. Since children with autism have different characteristics, an individualized education program should be prepared for each child.
The most important factor to be considered in the education and treatment of autism is to ensure the participation of the family. It is important for the child to be involved in the Individualized Education Program, to learn the methods used in education and to use them when necessary. In other words, family participation in education is essential.
Another point to note is the intensive and continuous implementation of education. The training program;
- It should be an autism-specific program developed for children with autism.
- The child must be in accordance with his / her individual characteristics and needs.
- The program should include not only skills appropriate to the child’s age but also skills that are appropriate to the level of development.
- It must have clearly defined and determined targets.
- The assessment of the results and the goal should be evaluated.
- Periodically, the program needs to be flexible and refreshing.
- It must be configured and structured.
- Both the skill to be taught and the place to be taught should be organized.
- To be systematic, it is necessary to do the teaching by following the lower steps of skill.
- Completion of integration processes with peers is very important.
Besides those, there should be some key elements to successful education. There are lots of criteria for the appropriate education of children with an autism spectrum disorder. There would be;
- Specialized and individualized curriculum content
- Classroom support that comes from both teachers and peers
- Specialized and individualized teaching methods and strategies
- Coordinated team approach
- Environmental modification depends on a child with autism
- Providing supports and services for students with autism and their families if it is needed
- Structured learning environment
- Cooperation between family and parent
- Collaboration with home-schooling if it is required
- Parent’s involvement
- Providing social support and positive attitudes by all people around
- Recurrent evaluation of inclusion procedures
Educational Necessities and Obligatory for Children with Autism
- It does not matter whether a special education teacher of a typical classroom teacher, teacher of a child with should have the training and at least experience in working with children with autism.
- The school administration should support the teacher of a child with autism both implicitly and explicitly. Because the teacher should be able to access resources, training, and materials as needed.
- Teachers should be able to modify the program and curriculum to the child with autism’s needs and strengths based on the child’s individualized educational program.
- The parents of a child with autism should be able to see evidence of various different teaching styles in use in the child’s classroom.
- Other teachers who are including gym, library and other specials teachers, should be able to access resources and supports as they work with the child with autism.
- Supportive therapies should be available on site and should be free of additional charge. For example, it could be speech therapy, physical therapy or occupational therapy.
Education in Home Settings
The family should first find and encourage activities that the child likes. Skill teaching can only be possible in such a situation. It will be possible to give skills to the child with activities that last 2-3 times a day for 3 or 5 minutes. In addition, the training places should be free of material and toys to distract the child with autism. However, changes in the environment may cause a negative reaction to them.
Therefore, it will be useful to provide skills development training in the same environments. If there is a need for a change of pace, first of all, make sure that the child is used to the new environment and feels safe there.
Special Education for Children with Autism
It is the training given to children with autism in order to be fully independent, or at least dependent on their age, and in order to provide their age-appropriate self-care, mental, social and communication skills.
In the special education program, it is aimed to improve the ability of the children who have autistic features to speak, correct and communicate with others around them through the use of speech and language therapies. On the other hand, occupational therapy is also used to develop self-care skills of children with autism, to improve balance and coordination, hand and eye coordination, and coarse and fine motor skills.
Behavioral Method (Applied Behavior Analysis / ABA)
This method was developed by Dr. Ivar Lovaas, a psychologist at the University of California at Los Angeles. The main purpose of this program is to analyze the child with autism’s behavior and the environmental characteristics related to these behaviors and to be able to produce the necessary program for therapy and education.
While many say it is a reward-punishment method, it has a different mechanism. The main purpose of the behavior analysis is to eliminate the negative behaviors that hinder the child’s learning and skill development. Positive behaviors are rewarded and negative behaviors are corrected by the teacher.
While behavior is taught in the behaviorist method, that behavior is divided into sub-behaviors that make it simplified. Also, verbal explanation and instructions are used to achieve the targeted behavior.
In this method of education, the importance of educators is very important. Child and teacher relationship is important in education. social behavior, imitation, independent playing skills, self-care skills, attention and language use are aimed to increase skills with the help of individualized training. Whereas, anger attacks, tantrums, self-destructive behaviors, and repetitive behaviors are aimed to be reduced.
In the behavioral method, the behaviors which are desired to be increased or reduced determined by the help of systematic observation and recording. These identified behaviors are intervened. The effectiveness of the intervention is evaluated by the same observation and record-keeping methods.
According to this method, individual and group training are given in institutions providing early education after early diagnosis. At the same time, within the framework of the education plan prepared for the child with autism, the family also supports education at home and participates in training and education.
The performance of the child is determined before the training program is created. In the training program, which is prepared in accordance with the performance of the child before the intervention or education, basic methods, such as rewarding, ignoring, forming or shaping, of behavioral approach are used for the desired or unwanted behavior.
In this method, it is thought that the child with autism needs to learn to imitate in order to learn a particular behavioral model. While normally developed children can perform a behavior in more than one environment, which means they have a capability of generalizing, children with autism cannot.
The ability to generalize the skills are taught for children with autistic characteristics, in other words, they have a chance to learn the ability to use what they learn in different settings. For this reason, a behavior that the child learned at home, school, service, in other words, should repeat in many different environments.
For the effective treatment of behavioral problems in the behavioral method:
- It should be applied every time the child is awake.
- It should aim at all behaviors of the child with autism.
- It should be applied in all periods of life.
- It should be applied by all the important people around.
- At least 40 hours per week of training and education should be targeted.
This method is the only method that proves its success by revealing the results obtained after two years of education with a scientific study compared to other methods applied in autism. In behavioral methods, programs related to the reduction of problem behaviors in children with autistic characteristics are prepared.
The reason for the behavior is not seen in people, it is seen in the interaction of the person with the environment. Therefore, while trying to reduce the problem behavior, it is necessary to observe the pre-behavior, behavior itself, post-behavior situations or events. While the problem behaviors are reduced, the behavior desired to be reduced is ignored and the actual desired behavior is increased.
Teaching Through Activity Schedules
This method is used for skill acquisition training. The main purpose is to enable the child with autism in order to gain skills by dividing them into small pieces. The skills required to be given to the child are divided into small activities. The child with autism gains the skill by performing these activities.
It should be noted that this method is generally a method that yields positive results. It is an effective way for children to develop their skills without being dependent on others. It is also known to help children to think in detail and comprehensively. In today’s world, it is a method used in many educational institutions.
Every child needs a role model in the learning process, whether or not he has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Children learn motor skills such as speech through the role model. It should be noted that this is more important in children with autism.
It is easier to learn various skills by modeling. In the model-making training, video materials are usually used. The child is asked to follow the person seen in the video and to do what that person in the video did. In this way, it is possible to put into practice the teaching of skills.
The video model includes materials that can help the child learn in front of him. For example, the ability to use objects is shown in the video while the child is asked to move objects and use them as a role model in the video.
In this way, children with autism will have turned their skills into practice. In some cases, children with autism are videotaped while doing various behaviors, and in this way learns their behavior by modeling.
TEACCH Program for Children with Autism
TEACCH means Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped. That program is based on the skills, interests, and needs of the child with autism.
In this method, the environment is not intended to fit the child, but the environment is intended to fit the child. Therefore, the physical environment is specially configured, the activities are arranged in a predictable way, visual plans that can be followed are prepared and structured workspaces are used. Children follow their visual plans in their study corners and perform certain skills. Thus, it is tried to minimize dependencies to others.
The educational principles of the TEACCH program benefit from features that differentiate autism from other groups. These are strengths, fields, and interests; evaluation for individualized education; structured teaching; understand the underlying causes of probabilistic behavior and working with parents.
Strengths, Fields, and Interests
Each individual has areas that good at, special interests and things like to do. People do what they can do better, so they tend to be successful and avoid doing things that are hard-pressed, likely to fail. People have a higher tendency to do things they are good at because they have a higher motivation in activities of special interest.
For example, for a child with a sorting behavior, using a schema created from pictures or articles that sort the tasks we want to do is to take advantage of this feature. For a child who is obsessed with yellow, marking the works that we want him/her to do with yellow is to use this feature educationally.
For a child who is interested in writing, it will be more effective to present the words we will teach by writing instead of verbal repetition. It is possible to duplicate these examples.
The important thing is to identify games, events, foods that the child with autism likes or dislikes, and also to identify situations, activities and special interests, such as articles, numbers, images, music, computers, TV, in which the communication increases or decreases.
Turning these features, or even their obsessive behavior, from disadvantage to advantage, into an educational tool, is one of the principles of Teach Program.
Evaluation for Individualized Education
It is basically a regular assessment of skills and, careful and continuous help. Children with autism are at the same level in all areas of development. What is important is to identify priorities in each area of development. The target should be selected from the skills in the areas that will meet the priority needs of the individual.
The Teacch program uses the PEP-R scale to determine the targets to be taken, the skills to which it is most ready to learn, and the correct objectives to determine. With this scale, developmental assessment is performed in 7 areas including imitation, perception, hand-eye coordination, fine motor movement, gross motor movement, cognition and verbal.
The skills that the child with autism can do, which the child cannot do, and that the child can partially do (ready to learn) in each development area are determined. New target skills should be selected by regular evaluation and replacement of skills.
Each study should provide the child with the necessary amount of help. Help should be gradually reduced and this help should be terminated when it comes to the ability to make child skill independent.
It is structured based on helping to understand the meaning. The main goal of the Teacch program is to learn the meaning of words in the world of autistic individuals, to understand the order and relationship of events, to learn that the environment has a meaning.
As the individual’s inadequacy decreases, their dependence on the teachers and the family will decrease and the individual with autism will be able to do all the necessary skills in daily life without the need of teachers’ and family’s direction.
For this reason, the Teacch program states that it is not enough for the child to learn some skills, rules, and language; emphasizes the need to understand the relationships between them, cause and effect relations. To do this, the environment and the training environment must be structured and understood.
Understand the Underlying Causes of Problem Behaviors
It is rarely seen that a child with autism exhibits intentional or provocative behavior. Most of the time, however, parents and teachers think that the child who has done the opposite or prohibited action by looking in his eye deliberately does so.
The Teacch program considers that it is not enough to just eliminate inappropriate behaviors and therefore focuses on understanding the underlying cause of the behavior. It uses cognitive-behavioral methods to change these behaviors.
Working with Parents
The Teacch program gives importance to the views of the family of a child with autism as observers and well-known people. For this reason, it is considered as one of the basic principles that teachers should take the wishes and needs of the family into consideration while creating the training program. Teachers give priority to correcting the behaviors that make the child’s life difficult.
The family is very important because the repetition and generalization of the skills gained in the school can be realized with the participation of the family to a great extent. For this reason, the family in the Teacch program is an important part of the training because they become an assistant therapist through process.
Teacch-Practicing Professionals Must Comprehend All Aspects of Autism
All experts working with autism should not be limited to a specific area, such as a psychologist and a language therapist, but should be able to generalize to all problems arising from autism. They implement an integrative work system.
Education Opportunities by Age
Early Childhood Period
If the child is under 3 years of age and has been diagnosed, the child may receive early childhood education. This training is carried out in schools and institutions or at home, where necessary, through direct education of the child, by informing and supporting the family in order to contribute to the education of the child.
If the child with autism is between 3-6 years of age, the child can receive special education in pre-school. Pre-school education of children who require special education is compulsory.
Pre-school education is provided by inclusion in preschool education institutions, such as a nursery or kindergarten where normal development is possible. Children who cannot benefit from integration should continue to special education institutions or special education classes that provide education at the pre-primary level.
Primary School Period
If the child with autism is between the ages of 6 and 10, the child may be involved in inclusive education in a primary school with children normally developed children. If this is not possible, the child may attend a Special Education Application Center or a special education class within the normal primary school.
Secondary School Period
If the child with autism is in the 10-14 age range and has a primary school degree, then the child can continue secondary education in general and vocational secondary education institutions together with their peers through inclusion practices. If this is not possible, they may attend a special education center or a special education class within the normal secondary school.
High School Period
If the child with autism is in the age range of 15-23 and has a secondary school degree, then the child can pursue high school together with their peers in mainstream and vocational institutions or in a special education class within the normal high school through inclusion practices.