The Benefits of Structured Teaching
Everybody needs a little structure in their lives. You see, structure is necessary for creating a sense of stability and balance, and without it, we lack purpose, motivation, and often times we may get distracted from what’s important in life. Similarly, people with ASD respond well to structure as they have major difficulties with conceptual and organizational skills, and structure provides predictability and meaningful routines for them.
Structured Teaching is an intervention philosophy coined by the University of North Carolina, Division TEACCH, which involves using various elements of visual structure to translate the expectations and opportunities of the environment into concepts that people with ASD can comprehend, master and enjoy. Essentially, the goal for Structured Teaching is to create a successful learning environment that promotes learning while complementing the individual’s needs.
The five elements of Structured Teaching include:
The Physical Environment
Routines (with flexibility)
Here are some tips on how to create a successful learning environment at home based on the foundations of Structured Teaching!
1. The physical environment for teaching
Consider this: Does your child require physical demarcations to help define areas for different activities? Are there any distractions that might hinder learning? Does your child need a specific quiet area/sensory area?
Organize the physical environment according to your child’s needs:
Sources of noise (traffic noises, noisy hallways)
Sources of visual distractions (windows, play area, television area)
Direct path from one work area to another, or to a quiet corner for self-regulation
Physical barriers (for children who tend to run out of the room)
Proximity to the bathroom
This is key to allow your child to know what to expect throughout the day, and when changes will occur This decreases stress and anxiety of the unknown, and ultimately helps your child develop independence as they slowly become less reliant on adult cues and prompts.
Consider this: What level of visual representation does your child comprehend best?
Prepare general schedules (Activities all through the day) and Activity schedules (Individual work and Lesson Schedules) from least to most abstract- Objects, Photos, Pictograms, Words
3. Routines (with flexibility)
In addition to visual schedules, routines help people with ASD predict and comprehend events throughout the day, which is likely to decrease agitation, anxiety and assist in skill development. Routines are extremely helpful during transitions when behavioral difficulties tend to occur.
Consider this: As much as having routine is important, it should include an element of flexibility which more realistically reflects how life is where change is inevitable. Hence, the general structure of the routine should remain predictable, but details should vary (i.e. materials during work/play time, timing for breaks etc.)
Examples of routines that could be put in place:
Go to school
4. Work/Activity systems:
Having a structured work system provides organized strategies and information they need to complete the tasks at hand, stay focused, and makes the concept of ‘finished’ concrete and meaningful, which in turn creates the feeling of satisfaction and closure when the specific activity is done.
Examples of differentiated work systems based on your child’s learning abilities:
Concrete learner: Use pictures, symbols, colours, numbers or object matching from work system to the box/folder corresponding to it
Leaners who can read: Written system with written list of tasks corresponding to labels on folders/boxes
5. Visual structures:
This could be visual instructions (e.g. jig, product sample) which accommodates people with ASD’s strong visual-perceptual skills. Visual Organization is also important, to ensure work materials are neatly organized and stable to ensure there are little to no distractions and over sensory stimulation. Separating and compartmentalization materials based on their functions or purpose, and demarcating areas to focus on can help make work more manageable and orderly for people with ASD. Lastly, visual clarity of a task helps people with ASD identify the main components of a task. Teaching visually distinct differences in a sorting activity by using large and small items instead of large and medium items can make instructions clearer to them. Covering parts of a worksheet that are not relevant, or highlighting the important areas can also be ways to help create visual clarity.
In conclusion, these components of Structured Teaching can provide strong visual cues and organization that help people with ASD process their environments better, and in turn, will benefit them greatly in their learning and independence of skills.
Written by: Pamela Ng