Structured environment

TEACCH, a comprehensive program for people on the autism spectrum, was introduced in the early 1970s by Eric Schopler Ph D and his associates. The organization's headquarters are in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with centers throughout the state offering free services to residents.


The program is a compilation of various services rather than a particular approach. The program provides:

  • Clinical Services
    • Diagnostic evaluations
    • Parental training and support
    • Social play groups
    • Recreation activities
    • Individual counseling
    • Employment support
  • Consultation
    • National and international training seminars
    • Teacher consultations
    • Residential caretaker consultations
    • Professionals in the field of autism
  • Research
    • Biomedical studies
    • Psychological
    • Educational

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill administers the program. TEACCH is developed through the idea of the Culture of Autism that involves a perception of the cognitive and behavioral patterns in many autistic individuals. The program caters to the strengths and interests of the individual focusing on learning characteristics of autism:

  • Visual aids
  • Attention
  • Sequencing and organization
  • Combining concepts and ideas
  • Communication in the realm of pragmatics
  • Concepts of time
  • Routine
  • Interests
  • Sensory issues

Teaching methods cater to the Culture of Autism while offering meaningful activities that are structured and motivating. The approach uses Structured Teaching to accomplish this.

Structured Teaching

The first aspect of Structured Teaching is to develop an understanding of the autistic culture followed by an individualized learning plan. The plan is used in place of a standard educational curriculum. The environment is an important factor in this strategy.

The learning environment is very important in the TEACCH program. The physical environment is structured to the individual. Visual aids are used to create a predictable schedule that is simple to understandable and each activity has a specific beginning, middle and end.

Adult Programs

The program is not specifically for teaching autistic children. Many adults benefit from Structured Teaching in different environments. Services are provided on an individual basis as needed:

  • Personal counseling
  • Marital counseling
  • Vocational support
  • Student counseling

The principals of the program are applicable to intervals on different levels of functioning and they are suitable for people of all ages. The program's services are conducted in a number of different settings including home, school and community environments.

TEACCH Contact Information
Website Telephone Fax Email
TEACCH (919) 966-2174 (919) 966-4127 TEACCH@unc.edu

Criticism and Acclaim

Autism and PDD Support Network criticizes the program in its feature Using TEACCH for Autism Treatment. The article suggests that the program caters to routine, order and scheduling rather than social interaction and peer acceptance. The visual aids, schedules and other components in the program isolate the student from her surroundings. The very nature of the program segregates the autistic student in the mainstream classroom environment. Paul Trehin offers a different perspective on the approach, noting that the treatment is ideal because it addresses each individual's specific needs and level of ability. He focuses on the benefits of including parents and caregivers as active co-therapists who are deeply involved in the individual's progress.

Wright's Law offers a valuable perspective on the topic by recognizing that parents feel supported in the program, which is of great importance. However, there is no concrete evidence that the interventions improve the individual's condition, as may be found in interventions like applied behavioral analysis. The ideal is a balance that does not bind individuals to a single treatment option.

Communication, Behavior and Socialization

Communication, behavior and socialization are very important factors in the proper treatment of autistic disorders. Some suggest that catering the environment to the autistic culture may isolate the individual and the use of many visual aids can interfere with the development of verbal communication. The program seems to lack social skills activities.

Since the environment is altered to suit the individual, the individual may not have an opportunity to tolerate everyday settings. There is little chance to develop a tolerance for changes in routine and unexpected surprises that can appear in unaltered environments.

Nearly every intervention used in the treatment of autism and related pervasive developmental disorders is subject to criticism. Some of the interventions used in TEACCH protocol can be very effective for some individuals but it may not suit everyone.

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