Thursday, May 17, 2012

Essay on Autism Spectrum Disorder

Effective educational practices for students with autism spectrum disorders

The article suggests six elements of effective instructional programs for students with autism spectrum disorders. These elements are (a) individualized supports and services for students and families, (b) systematic instruction, (c) comprehensible/structured learning environments, (d) specialized curriculum content, (e) functional approach to problem behavior, and (f) family involvement.

The article starts with a comprehensive literature review of previous studies that researched elements that are crucial for success of students with ASD. The limitation of the study, typical for any meta-analytical research, is that it relies solely on secondary data: recommendations put forward in the article have not been tested empirically.
The authors rely on two methods: analysis of systematic reviews and analysis of primary studies. For systematic reviews are compared along the lines of their coverage of the following issues: supportive and structured learning environments, family involvement, early intervention, specialized curricula focusing on communication and social interaction, integration with typical peers, predictability and routine, functional approach to problem behaviors, planned transitions between preschool and kindergarten/ first grade, individualization of supports and services, systematic, carefully planned instruction, intensity of engagement, and developmentally appropriate practices.

For each empirical study dedicated to any of the aforementioned components, age of engagement, target behavior, and appropriate intervention were discussed.

The article has discovered that the following target behavior can be achieved by specific interventions:

Individualized supports and services 
Increase social engagement with peers: Functional use of children’s unique obsessive behaviors as play themes
Increase engagement in tasks and schedules: Picture activity schedules and graduated guidance
Develop individualized plans to increase engagement and support inclusion in general education kindergarten: Individualized assessments of levels of behaviors and targeted instruction for specific needs
Decreasing rates of disruptive behavior and increasing engagement in instruction: Task interspersal (difficult/easy); least-to-most prompting; progressive time delay
Self-initiation of question-asking and generalization: Motivational procedures (incorporation of preferred items, natural reinforcers)

Systematic, carefully planned instruction Increase on-task behaviors and school performance / Reduction of inappropriate vocalizations and increase in engagement and independence:
Self-management Increase discrete behaviors (language, social behaviors, motor skills, etc.):
Intensive discrete trial training compared to eclectic treatment
Increase acquisition, generalization, and maintenance of grocery shopping skills:
Combination of in vivo training, constant time delay, and pictorial storyboard simulation
Specialized curriculum: Social skills Increase social behaviors:
Peer mediation (pivotal response training) Increase appropriate play with toy skills: Self-management package Increase joint attention, play, and language: Peer-supported integrated play groups

Functional approach to problem behaviors
Decrease challenging behaviors and increase appropriate/communicative behaviors: School team-based functional behavior assessment; differential reinforcement and consequential strategies; functional behavior assessment and social stories; functional analysis and antecedent manipulations

Family involvement
Assess the effects of different parent training interventions on parent interaction styles: Parent training of functional behavior assessment; pivotal response training compared with discrete trial training

The article provides an in-depth explanation of each of the six core elements with clear objectives attached to them. For example, individualized supports and services for students and families should increase social engagement with peers, enhance engagement in tasks and schedules, decrease rates of disruptive behavior, and result in higher self-initiation of question-asking and generalization. Comprehensible/structured learning environments imply organizing the instructional setting, providing a schedule of activities, planning and providing choice making opportunities, providing behavioral support, defining specific areas of the classroom and school settings, providing temporal relations, and facilitating transitions, flexibility, and change. The article also specifies age brackets for each of the target. Coming back to the first example, engagement with peers is crucial for students who are 5-7 years old, while engagement in tasks and schedules is essential for students who are 7–9 years old.

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