In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Education For Children with Autism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • National Reports in Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Journals
  • Definitions and Conceptions of Autism
  • Identification of Individuals Classified with Autism
  • Educational Interventions and Models
  • Communication Needs and Characteristics of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Behavioral Characteristics

Education Education For Children with Autism
Kathleen M. McCoy, Ann Bormett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0082


Education for children and youth with autism, a disorder affecting the neurological system resulting in atypical development, addresses three basic areas: social skills, language, and stereotypic or repetitive behaviors. Proficiency levels with these behaviors are highly diverse, but general consensus holds that the earlier in the child’s life these needs are addressed the more likely more typical behavior will develop. In addition, research has indicated that many children with autism learn skills more easily and quickly when provided with visual supports. Although many children with autism are educated in the general education classroom, almost as many are educated in special programs or clinical settings. The more severe the atypical behavior, the more likely the learner will be in a special setting. Interventions for children with autism must take into account any comorbid conditions, such as learning disabilities or intellectual disability. Medical issues are also common in children with more severe involvement with autism and must be taken into account when developing interventions. Although specialized programs have been designed for this population, instructional approaches must be adapted to align with the needs of the individual learner. National trends, such as differentiation of instruction and instructional practices focusing on data-based decision making, hold promise for the education of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Public awareness has been raised owing to the rapidly growing numbers of children in this population, resulting in more educational services for children, research opportunities, and teacher training programs.

General Overviews

Research has demonstrated that education is a critical factor in determining proficiency in the core areas of social skills and language and reduction of stereotypic or compulsive behaviors. Through systematic planning, improvements in these core areas occur for most children and youth with autism. Autism affects cognitive development. As noted in Frith 2003, aspects of autism can emerge at various developmental stages. Education services adapt to developmental changes as they surface. Educational programs, strategies, and interventions for children and youth with autism are dynamically shaped by the needs of the learner. Because the severity and nature of the condition varies from learner to learner, major intervention and treatment methods also differ from learner to learner. Although many children and youth receive instruction in traditional educational areas such as reading and mathematics, a large number also receive services targeting specific needs that exceed a traditional classroom curriculum. Children who excessively engage in inappropriate behaviors such as biting, confusing social signals, or who are nonverbal, for example, are likely to receive educational services from a therapist specially trained to work in these areas. Instructional programming for children and youth with autism very often is highly structured and systematized. Effective educational programs, especially for young children with autism, also require more parental involvement than those for typically developing peers. According to Hall and Graff 2011, parents often are part of the educational team. Interventions and programs are characterized by identification of more basic goals and objectives than found for typically developing learners. Variability in instructional formats is reflected in organizational approaches and measurement techniques. In some programs, tasks and subtasks are measureable and objective. Delivery of these tasks is predictable, organized, and measured for effect on the child’s performance. In other programs, neither goals nor objectives are measureable, and structure may not be apparent. Although educational programs and interventions for children with autism are individualized, according to Simpson and Zionts 2000 emphasis generally targets one or more of the following skill areas: academics, behavior, social skills, communication and language, motor skills, self-help, and independent living skills. Educational programs that provide individualized instruction utilizing evidence-based practices and data-based decisions are requirements for providing high-quality services for children and youth with autism.

  • Frith, Uta. 2003. Autism: Explaining the enigma. 2d ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    Originally written in 1989, this material is an updated version of Frith’s conceptualization of autism. Frith has juxtaposed facts from neuroscience with interpretation of vignettes of individuals with autism. The material in this text is a clear reflection of the author’s beliefs and stresses selective areas of autism.

  • Hall, Heather, and J. Carolyn Graff. 2011. The relationships among adaptive behaviors of children with autism, family support, parenting stress, and coping issues. Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing 34:4–25.

    DOI: 10.3109/01460862.2011.555270

    Issues related to parents of children with autism and families are discussed. The authors describe techniques and considerations for helping parents assess their needs and how to seek community support. They also describe use of coping strategies to decrease excessive stress.

  • Simpson, Richard L., and Paul Zionts. 2000. Autism: Information and resources for professionals and parents. 2d ed. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

    The authors present scientifically valid information in a manner appealing to parents and professionals. Common questions about autism and autism-related disorders are addressed. The authors have attempted to summarize issues and discuss progress in the field.

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