When my son was two he was diagnosed as autistic. At this time I was really struggling to engage with him and it was heart-breaking. Each time I would try and play or engage he would move away or turn his back. I was so upset and desperate to find ways to engage with him. The two things that made a big difference to us (after a rocky start) were PECS® and TEACCH®. In this post I will share how we use TEACCH at home.
What is TEACCH?
TEACCH® – Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children.
TEACCH is a widely used teaching method developed for autistic children by the University of North Carolina in 1966.
It provides a structured teaching method as a tool to support autistic individuals’ understanding. The method relies on the following elements:
- Physical structure
- Visual structure
- Scheduling / sequencing
- Work / activity system
The long winded and outdated name is rarely used and you will find it referred to as TEACCH or the TEACCH method. In our house we call in the colour schedule as this is what we use TEACCH for. I need to point out that I have never received TEACCH training and I am only sharing what I have learnt about TEACCH from others who have used it with my son who has autism.
Why do you need TEACCH
People with autism think differently, common traits can be:
- visual thinkers
- prefer routines and familiarity
- struggle with flexibility
- speech and language difficulties
- communication difficulties
- sensory issues
- motivated by repetitive behaviour and personal interests
TEACCH was developed as a method to teach individuals with these specific differences in mind. The majority of the list above certainly describes my son. I have tried every teaching method and parenting strategy I have come across, TEACCH was one that works for my son. To quote Ignacio Estrada:
‘If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn’
How do you teach with TEACCH?
Ok so let’s look a little more at the method before going through examples. Along with the key elements mentioned above TEACCH requires answers to the following questions to be clear for the learner:
- What do I have to do?
- How much have I got to do?
- How will I know I am making progress / when is it finished?
- What is next?
TEACCH can be used for teaching many different things. Let’s look at the TEACCH elements in a bit more detail and I will explain how we use TEACCH at home.
Look at the environment you are using, is it right for learning? You need to remove as many distractions as possible. Put toys away, reduce noise (no TV or music in the background). Ideally it will be on a 1-1 basis. The best place to do structured teaching for us is at the table. We use the kitchen table as there are no toys in there. Getting my son to the table was our first hurdle and probably took a good six weeks to get there.
The environment is also used to give clues to the learner about what is going on. We use the same ‘bag for life’ (covered in Minions) to hold the activities. This means when I bring the bag out my son knows we are doing his TEACCH / colour schedule. Now when he sees the bag he runs to the table ready to learn! Trust me when I started I did not think that would be the outcome.
It was hard at first trying to encourage my son to the table and get him to engage with the colour schedule and there were many times I wanted to give up. I was lucky I had support from the ASD service to get started- if you can get any support use it. If not ask a friend to help even just for moral support.
Having two people help initiate using TEACCH will make life easier, one of you can be the teacher trying to entice your child with the activities and the other can act as a physical prompter. Using physical prompting is a really good way to show the child what you want them to do. Guide them from behind (silently if you can) and just help them to go to the table and then support them physically to do what you want them to do. Over time you can phase out prompting, also after the first time it is easier to do the prompting and teaching together. Using two people is really just for the first time to make it easier to show the learner what is expected of them.
Removing distractions is another hurdle, my son would rather play with the table leg than engage with me when we started. Patience and consistency is needed!! Another issue for us was his younger brother who was only a baby at the time. I wasn’t really able to remove that distraction but I would get the TEACCH schedule out when the baby was sleeping. As his brother has got older we would do it at nap time and now it’s at weekends when Dad is home to play with my youngest and keep him out the way.
After my son was first diagnosed we had a member of staff from the local ASD outreach service visit us at home once a fortnight. This was an amazing service and along with support from nursery this was how we implemented TEACCH at home. Unfortunately as with most SEN services this has now been cut. So even more reason for me to share with you what we have learnt.
Using visual aids to promote understanding is very important for many autistic children. My son really struggles with verbal instruction so using pictures, colours or numbers to identify the sequence on a schedule makes such a difference.
You also need the activities to be visually stimulating to get the learners attention.
Scheduling / sequencing
Use some kind of visual schedule to organise and communicate the sequence of events that is happening. You also need to link the schedule into the activities / work so that it is very clear what is happening.
Our first schedule was a colour schedule. Essentially you have a strip of card including a strip of Velcro, then you have a series of different coloured card squares- again with Velcro so they can be stuck to the schedule strip. You need matching coloured squares attached to the activities so that they can be matched up as you go through the schedule. Each square (doesn’t have to be square but that’s what we use), corresponds to a different activity.
Use something your child will understand, start easy with matching colours later this can be numbers or pictures or even text.
I really recommend that you laminate things as much as possible, it just means they last longer. See my post on PECS cards for some laminating tips.
The point of the schedule is to create a sequence of activities to follow along the strip. I usually have 7 activities on the schedule but it will depend on the length of time each task is likely to take. I aim for about an hour in total. When we started off it was much shorter and you may want to start with just 3 or 4 activities. At school you would probably have a schedule for the whole day that would include breaks and lunch. Having a visual schedule allows the learner to easily see what they need to do, what order to do it and when they will finish.
Teach the method structure
When you start you will have your schedule and activities set out but your first main goal is to teach your child the structure and how the schedule works. The first task is to get them to the table (or floor whatever is the best physical environment for that learner). Then it is to teach them that each item on the visual schedule matches one of the activities set out before them. You will use physical prompting to guide them to take the first item off the schedule and place it on the corresponding activity. Having lots of velcro spots around to use is very helpful. Once placed on the activity, complete that activity and repeat the process for each item on the schedule.
Work system / activity system
Ok, so to get your child to engage from at the start, the actual work or activity you want them to do needs to be fun. Initially we would use highly motivating things, for my son this was puzzles. The first activity on the schedule would be something he would want to do and the one at the end would also need to be one of the higher motivators. This is so they see they will get to an activity they like if they keep going. At first make all the activities fun as you want to get the structure in place. Once they get the method you can introduce more challenging things and even activities they don’t really want to do (as long as its followed by a good one).
You want each activity to be clear and some may require further visual instruction. Try to make sure what you want to be done is obvious and how much needs to be done before you will move onto the next activity.
I will go through some example activities in a moment.
TEACCH can become a routine itself, for us using the same method of a colour schedule at home (with both mum and dad) and at nursery means that skill was transferred. Once a formal structure is in place for learning it allows you to be more flexible with the activities that you include.
I’m not going to lie it’s not easy in the beginning, finding time to get the activities all set up and ready can be hard. Having a quiet hour for just you and your child at a good time of day for them to learn is much easier said than done. However, finding just a couple of hours a week really makes a difference. Consistency and perseverance has really paid off for us.
Having the TEACCH structure that my son now fully understands means I can sit down with him and actually teach him things. I can see that he understands what we are doing and is making progress. When we started the ASD service would bring the colour schedule and activities with them but I soon started to set up my own bag. You know your child best and are likely to know what motivates them. Use the professionals working with your child to steer your targets.
We do our schedule about once a week now, now 4 and a half years old my son loves it and his new school will be using the method too.
Using TEACCH methods at home
So TEACCH is generally aimed at professionals and specialist schools. The majority of training is for professionals but it is available for parents. I have found using a simple schedule for an hour of table top activities has been great for my son’s development. It has been used to teach him to match, count, sort and even starting reading skills. You also begin to use the structure in other learning tasks more naturally after a while.
You need to be prepared
I keep a schedule and activities set up ready to be accessed at an appropriate time. When we do a schedule I try to then set up the next one straight away. Once you have lots of activities you can use it is easy to pull together a new set. I try to make sure he has different activities from one week to the next but things we are working on may go in every other week, to keep doing it regularly.
Tailor it to the individual
Whatever activities you use they need to be tailored to your learner. It is no use starting with puzzles if the child can’t do them or hates them. Think about the level they are at, are you just starting out- if so keep it simple and increase difficulty slowly. As previously mentioned try to use activities you know they are able to do. At first you want to get them used to the schedule method before introducing additional new skills to learn. One thing at a time!
At our regular meetings with professionals we are always given targets. For example work on mark making, scissor skills and communication. Incorporate these targets into the activities as much as possible.
To work it needs to fit into your family life, how often can you reasonably do it and when is a good time to fit it in?
Sometimes you will get it wrong. An activity may be too difficult. I remember my son throwing the cotton reels and string at me when I was teaching him to thread them! If something upsets them move on, but do try it again at a later date, at some point they will be ready to try it. Some days it won’t work and others you will see leaps in progress. If you need to make changes do that, read your child and do what works for them.
Activities to use TEACCH at Home:
My son was two and a half when we started with the colour schedule and we would use puzzles, basic sorting, posting and matching activities. As he has developed so have the activities. As he progressed with PECS we would use commenting activities to support this. Now he prefers Lego to Duplo and we have started to include more pre-school based worksheets and learning in the activities.
You can do some really basic sorting activities with objects you have around the house. I have a tub of buttons that we use for colour sorting. You can use kids plastic bowls or plates to match up colours easily.
We have a lovely Post Box Game from Orchard Toys which is a great posting game where you sort by colour. This has been very popular and great for early learning.
A good way to entice your child to the activity is to use their favourite characters. We have a Peppa Pig game which is really good for working on their motor skills as well as colour matching.
As the child progresses you can have activities that need sorting or matching by more than one attribute. An example being this Magnetic Pattern Board that you need to find the right colour and shape item to place on the picture.
Another simple sorting activity is by size. Here I have two tupperware boxes, one for small the other for large.
Matching activities are good ones to start with and this is where my son was able to show off his great visual skills. I was surprised at how much he was able to do. It was great when we finally found the right sort of activities for him.
Shoe boxes are great for making up activities. In this one I have simply stuck pictures of things my son knew and made a slot in the box so he can match up the corresponding picture then post it in the box.
There are so many great matching games out there and these are some of our favourites: Happyland Bingo
Character Lotto by orchard toys:
Another great matching activity is numbers and letter matching. Here I have just written out the alphabet on a piece of card with bottle tops to be matched up.
Later this can be used to match words with games like this Match and Spell Game from Orchard Toys.
Lego & Duplo
My son likes to follow instructions as long as he can understand them. Duplo and Lego are great for visual instructions. Duplo do some early gift sets that can be used for schedule activities.
You can also use Duplo to work on sequencing, motor skills and counting. Here I printed out some visual tower instructions from Pinterest for my son to follow.
Now my son has moved onto LEGO we use sets with instructions to follow. He really enjoys this at the moment but does need to be focused to get it done.
My son went through a phase of loving puzzles, he is very good at them. To start off we used basic inset puzzles
As he moved on so did the difficulty. Again use favourite characters, we have lots of Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig Puzzles.
Developing motor skills
You can include pre-writing skills (mark making) easily in the schedule. This can be to try and get the learner to copy shapes or lines you draw (this one doesn’t work so well for us) or colouring. Once my son knew his numbers we found colour by numbers a much better alternative as it has more structure than free colouring.
Another shoe box activity is to place clothes pegs on the side of the box, much harder than it looks but great for using wrist muscles.
Scissor skills is one we have been given as a target from the Occupational Therapist. My son really struggled with scissors at fist but we had much more success with easy grip scissors . I use kids magazines for cutting activities as they often have a page to cut out.
You can get some great wipe clean and pre-school learning books that are great for activity schedules once your child is able to work at that level. My son responded really well to structured wipe clean books. Learning books often combine stickers and colouring / tracing and are great for young children – just be careful to think about the right level for each learner.
Pinterest and Google are great for finding worksheets you can print out and use.
As my son uses Picture exchange communication we use PECS activities on our schedule too:
Children’s magazines often have good games that can be used. Here is a Twirlywoos dominos set that we got ages ago, it makes a great matching and turn taking activity for the schedule.
Both my boys love this magnet fishing game which is good for counting out how many you both get.
Mr Potato Head is a really good one for visual instructions.
Games are brilliant for turn taking practice. Just remember to take your turn quickly to keep them engaged. You probably already have lots of suitable things to use. Keeping some activities back that only get used with the schedule will help get your learner engaged.
For more information:
This video on YouTube helps to show how TEACCH is used in the classroom.
I hope this is helpful and gives you some ideas. Let me know how you get on or if you have any great TEACCH activities or tips in the comments.
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