This is a brief overview of information about 'Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped Children' (TEACCH) interventions, taken from the Autism CRC report, Interventions for children on the autism spectrum: A synthesis of research evidence (Autism Interventions Evidence Report).

There are seven other category overviews available to help people learn about different interventions and their research evidence. To understand the information in its full context, we encourage you to access the full report.

Why are TEACCH interventions supposed to support children's development?

TEACCH is a program based on structured teaching, which places an emphasis on adapting tasks and environments to support a child’s independence, learning and participation. It has been used predominantly in classrooms but may also be used in home or community settings.

TEACCH is based on a proposed profile of the strengths, preferences, and needs of children on the autism spectrum, including a desire for routine, relative strength in processing visual information, heightened attention to detail, and strong sensory preferences and aversions. Collectively, TEACCH describes this profile as the ‘culture of autism’1, and seeks to adapt the learning environment to enhance learning opportunities.

How are these interventions used in clinical practice?

The TEACCH program was developed in North Carolina (USA) and involves both a clinical service and professional training program1. Classrooms are organised to create structure and predictability through four key components:

  • arranging the physical environment to minimise sensory distractions, and to create clearly-defined spaces,
  • visual schedules to enhance predictability,
  • work systems to inform the child about "what to do", "how long for", "when the task is finished", and "what happens next", and
  • visual structure to enhance clarity.

Although the TEACCH program is based in the USA, structured teaching as a practice and constituent techniques (e.g., visual schedules) are widely adopted across international educational and clinical settings1.

What are the principles that underpin the use of behavioural interventions?

Four ‘essential mechanisms’ have been described for TEACCH1:

  • Structuring the environment and activities in ways that are understandable to the individual.
  • Using individuals’ (proposed) relative strengths in visual processing and interest in visual details to supplement other areas of relatively weaker skills.
  • Using individuals’ special interests to engage them in learning.
  • Supporting self-initiated use of meaningful communication.

Who delivers these interventions?

Children on the autism spectrum often have needs across multiple domains of learning, and physical and mental health. Accordingly, children and families may benefit from the expertise of a range of clinical practitioners spanning health, education and medical disciplines.

For all intervention categories, it is essential that clinical practitioners have acquired appropriate qualifications, are regulated (e.g., by a professional or government body), and deliver interventions that are within their scope of practice. A detailed explanation is provided in the full report.

What is the evidence for the effect of TEACCH interventions on child and family outcomes?

Below is a summary of the evidence for the effect of TEACCH interventions on child and family outcomes, taken from systematic reviews published since 2010. This means that a range of relevant individual studies have been considered, and thus reflects the best available evidence at this point in time.

Listed first are findings from systematic reviews that considered a mixture of TEACCH interventions. Following that are findings relating to specific TEACCH intervention practices.

  • Each cell represents evidence for the intervention category or practice (horizontal rows) on various child and family outcomes (vertical columns).
  • The effect of these interventions on a range of child and family outcomes is summarised as positive, null, or mixed.
    • Positive means that all available evidence indicated a positive effect of the intervention on a given child or family outcome.
    • Inconsistent means that there was a mixture of positive and null effects reported for the intervention on a given child or family outcome.
    • Null means that all available evidence indicated a null effect of the intervention on a given child or family outcome.
  • H / M / L indicates the methodological quality of the evidence that contributed to the overall intervention effect for a given child or family outcome. The quality of evidence on which these findings are based is summarised as high, moderate, or low. These quality ratings are relative to those that met the minimum standards to be included in the report. Where there is more than one quality rating, it means more than one systematic review is represented.
    • H indicates evidence from a high quality review
    • M indicates evidence from a moderate quality review
    • L indicates evidence from a low quality review
  • Where a cell is empty, it means there was no evidence available from the systematic reviews included in the report.

Please refer to the full report for a detailed explanation of the process used to collect, summarise, and synthesise the evidence presented here. 

Summary of evidence table

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Evidence table for TEACCH interventions

Core autism characteristics

Related skills and development

Education and participation

Family wellbeing

Interventions

No. of systematic reviews

Overall autistic characteristics

Social-communication

Restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours

Sensory behaviours

Communication

Expressive language

Receptive language

Cognition

Motor

Social-emotional/ challenging behaviour

Play

Adaptive behaviour

General outcomes

School/ learning readiness

Academic skills

Quality of life

Community participation

Caregiver communication and interaction strategies

Caregiver social emotional wellbeing

Caregiver satisfaction

Caregiver financial wellbeing

Child satisfaction

Systematic review of TEACCH*

1

Null
M

Structured teaching

1

Inconsistent
L

Systematic review of TEACCH*

No. of systematic reviews: 1

Core autism characteristics

Overall autistic characteristics: No evidence available

Social-communication: Null effect (Evidence from 1 moderate quality review)

Restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours: No evidence available

Sensory behaviours: No evidence available

Related skills and development

Communication: No evidence available

Expressive language: No evidence available

Receptive language: No evidence available

Cognition: No evidence available

Motor: No evidence available

Social-emotional/ challenging behaviour: No evidence available

Play: No evidence available

Adaptive behaviour: No evidence available

General outcomes: No evidence available

Education and participation

School/ learning readiness: No evidence available

Academic skills: No evidence available

Quality of life: No evidence available

Community participation: No evidence available

Family wellbeing

Caregiver communication and interaction strategies: No evidence available

Caregiver social emotional wellbeing: No evidence available

Caregiver satisfaction: No evidence available

Caregiver financial wellbeing: No evidence available

Child satisfaction: No evidence available

Structured teaching

No. of systematic reviews: 1

Core autism characteristics

Overall autistic characteristics: No evidence available

Social-communication: No evidence available

Restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours: No evidence available

Sensory behaviours: No evidence available

Related skills and development

Communication: No evidence available

Expressive language: No evidence available

Receptive language: No evidence available

Cognition: No evidence available

Motor: No evidence available

Social-emotional/ challenging behaviour: No evidence available

Play: No evidence available

Adaptive behaviour: No evidence available

General outcomes: Inconsistent effect (Evidence from 1 low quality review)

Education and participation

School/ learning readiness: No evidence available

Academic skills: No evidence available

Quality of life: No evidence available

Community participation: No evidence available

Family wellbeing

Caregiver communication and interaction strategies: No evidence available

Caregiver social emotional wellbeing: No evidence available

Caregiver satisfaction: No evidence available

Caregiver financial wellbeing: No evidence available

Child satisfaction: No evidence available

*Practices included in systematic reviews of assorted TEACCH interventions

Not specified

View the full evidence table for all intervention categories

Full reference of report

Whitehouse, A., Varcin, K., Waddington, H., Sulek, R., Bent, C., Ashburner, J., Eapen, V., Goodall, E., Hudry, K., Roberts, J., Silove, N., Trembath, D. Interventions for children on the autism spectrum: A synthesis of research evidence. Autism CRC, Brisbane, 2020

Intervention category overviews

References

  1. Mesibov, G. B., & Shea, V. (2010). The TEACCH program in the era of evidence-based practice. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(5), 570-579. doi:10.1007/s10803-009-0901-6