Autism and the Structured Teaching Approach


School of the Holy Spirit adopts an eclectic approach to teaching students with autism and advocates and practices a broad range of methodologies, programmes and interventions, one of which is the TEACCH model.

TEACCH and a structured teaching approach are seen as an integral methodology in our teaching and learning repertoire.

TEACCH was developed by Eric Schopler in the early 1970s in the University of North Carolina. It is now a comprehensive clinical and psychoeducational programme for supporting people with autism.

The TEACCH philosophy views autism as a culture and the key assumption is that the environment and daily activities need to be adapted to meet the unique needs and strengths of the person with autism.



This policy was written in response to the identified needs of students in our school in the areas of communication, imagination and socialisation and following training in TEACCH.

The triad of impairments;

  • Language impairment across all modes of communication – speech, intonation, gesture, facial expression and other body language.

  • Rigidity and inflexibility of thought processes – resistance to change, obsessional and ritualistic behaviour.

  • Difficulties with social relationships, lack of social empathy, rejection of normal body contact, inappropriate eye contact.



  • To provide a stable, ordered secure environment in which the student with autism can optimally function

  • To facilitate learning through a visual and structured teaching approach

  • To provide an individualized approach for the student with autism

  • To focus on skill enhancement including academic, communication, leisure and behaviour skills.

  • To provide a setting for regular assessment of interests, strength, progress and needs.

  • To provide an environment for promoting socialisation and play.


 Elements of TEACCH

  • Physical Structure – Organising the physical environment with clearly defined work areas is central to effectively teach students with autism. Students become familiar with what happens in each area which leads to independence in the setting.

  • Visual Schedules – Research confirms that students with autism tend to have a visually based learning style. TEACCH aims to facilitate learning through a visual and structured approach. Visual teaching strategies builds understanding, increases meaning and predictability, teaches functional skills, promotes spontaneous communications and independence and increases learning.

  • Work Systems – Work systems help to define and organise the activities individual students will undertake during their period of work. Systems are individualised to meet the assessed needs of the students.

  • Routine – The most functional skill for students with autism is a routine which involves checking ones’ schedule and following the established work system. This routine can be generalised in multiple situations.

  • Scheduling – A schedule is set up which indicates what the student is supposed to do and when it is supposed to happen. The students’ day and/or week can be clearly shown through word ,pictures , photographs or objects. 

The elements should ideally be used consistently across all of the students’ environments to best effect.


Structured Teaching;

Structured teaching is effective because;

  • It helps the student with autism to understand expectations

  • It helps the student to be calm and regulated for learning

  • It suits the student’s typical learning style

  • It promotes independence

  • It helps to manage behaviours

  • It helps to generalise learning through visual systems

  • It promotes flexible thinking



Each classroom aims to be a well- structured, orderly and tidy environment.

The physical classroom is structured so that students can anticipate and learn what happens in particular areas and what is expected of them in those areas.


The classrooms are laid out as follows;

  • Individual Workstations

  • Teacher desk

  • Group Table

  • Transition Area

  • Snack/Lunch Table

  • Play Area


Individual Work Station;

The objective is for the student to interact with the activity/task with independence and minimal adult intervention.

  • A work schedule is placed in front of the student to guide him/her through the set tasks

  • Students work from left to right and top to bottom. Completed work is placed in the finished tray on the right.

  • Students understand what work and how much work they have to do, when they are finished and what comes next.


Teacher Desk;

Students may engage in one to one learning with teacher here.


Group Table;

  • Is a setting for group work and teaching and practice of social skills.

  • Promotes turn- taking, waiting and listening skills.

  • Promotes the development of communication and language skills.


Transition Area;

Provides daily schedule. It makes provision for students who are challenged to sequence their activities. It also can help students to organize and predict daily and weekly events. This lessens anxiety about what will happen next. It helps students to transition independently between activities and aids motivation for tasks when they are followed by a favoured activities.


Play Area;

  • A physically defined play area

  • Materials and toys are age and/or developmentally appropriate

  • Materials are in good repair and ordered.

  • An area to model play and engage students in aspects of play with a peer/peers.


Snack/Lunch Table;

  • A setting for developing appropriate eating habits.

  • Promotes communication skills and social interaction.

  • Promotes the concept of regular eating times and practices.


The TEACCH approach advocates a focus on the student with autism and the development of their skills, interests and needs, and individual assessment is key to understanding the student and where he/she is functioning. Strengths are cultivated and built upon and communication, social and leisure skills are considered central to the students’ ability to grow and develop holistically in conjunction with academic progress.

TEACCH is practiced in our school in conjunction with Sensory Integration, PECS, DIR Floortime techniques, emotional regulation programmes, anxiety management programmes and social skills programmes.