Educating students with autism is usually an intensive undertaking, involving a team of professionals and many hours each week of different instruction and therapies to address a student’s behavioral, developmental, social and/or academic needs. Students with autism often require explicit teaching across a variety of settings to generalize skills.

Most school classrooms incorporate elements of several established approaches. It is important for schools to evaluate prospective interventions for a student on an individualized basis, as well as keep in mind the need to use evidence-based methods and strategies. No single intervention has been proven effective for every individual with autism.

Differentiated Instruction

Teachers can effectively respond to a learner’s needs and strengths through the use of differentiated instruction. Through this approach, the specific skills or difficulties of students with ASD can be addressed by employing a variety of methods to differentiate (or vary) the following:

The content: The depth or breadth of the information or skills to be taught.

The processes: The instructional approaches used with the student, as well as the materials used to deliver or illustrate the content.

The products of the learning situation: What the end product will be or look like. This product may be tangible (a worksheet, project, composition), a skill that has been acquired, or knowledge that has been gained.

To differentiate instruction, teachers should consider adaptations to the curriculum, instruction, or expectations that may be required according to a student’s readiness, interests, and learning profile.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA):

ABA is the name of the systematic approach to the assessment and evaluation of behavior, and the application of interventions that alter behavior. The principles of analyzing behavior to understand its function, controlling the environment and interactions prior to a behavior (antecedents) and adjusting responses (consequences), and using positive reinforcement (rewarding what you want to see) are all ABA techniques that are often used in shaping behavior in individuals with autism. Many programs use the principles of ABA as a primary teaching method, or as a way of promoting positive and adaptive behavior.

Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) or the Lovaas Model:

Named for its pioneer (ABA-based) Teacher-directed DTT targets skills and behaviors based on an established curriculum. Each skill is broken down into small steps, and taught using prompts, which are gradually eliminated as the steps are mastered. The child is given repeated opportunities to learn and practice each step in a variety of settings. Each time the child achieves the desired result, he receives positive reinforcement, such as verbal praise or something that he finds to be highly motivating.

Floortime, or Difference Relationship Model (DIR):

The premise of Floortime is that an adult can help a child expand his circles of communication by meeting him at his developmental level and building on his strengths.Therapy is often incorporated into play activities – on the floor – and focuses on developing interest in the world, communication and emotional thinking by following the child’s lead.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS):

The PECS system allows children with little or no verbal ability to communicate using pictures. An adult helps the child build a vocabulary and articulate desires, observations or feelings by using pictures consistently. It starts with teaching the child to exchange a picture for an object. Eventually, the individual learns to distinguish between pictures and symbols and use these to form sentences. Although PECS is based on visual tools, verbal reinforcement is a major component and verbal communication is encouraged.

Examples of visual supports: Visual schedule, card with symbol of next activity, List of written expectations, Daily schedule or calendar, Series of pictures to demonstrate steps required, Labelled objects, Cue cards (e.g., STOP), stories, or written behavioural routines and expectations, Choice board with pictures of options, or a written list for students who have reading skills

Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT)

(ABA-based) PRT is a child-directed intervention that focuses on critical, or “pivotal,” behaviors that affect a wide range of behaviors. The primary pivotal behaviors are motivation and child’s initiations of communications with others. The goal of PRT is to produce positive changes in the pivotal behaviors, leading to improvement in communication, play and social behaviors and the child’s ability to monitor his own behavior. Child-directed intervention

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)

RDI seeks to improve the individual’s long-term quality of life by helping him improve social skills, adaptability and self-awareness through a systematic approach to building emotional, social and relational skills.

Social Communication/Emotional Regulation/Transactional Support (SCERTS)

SCERTS uses practices from other approaches (PRT, TEACCH, Floortime and RDI), and promotes child initiated communication in everyday activities and the ability to learn and spontaneously apply functional and relevant skills in a variety of settings and with a variety of partners. The SCERTS model favors having children learn with and from peers who provide good social and language models in inclusive settings as much as possible.

Verbal Behavior(VB)

(ABA-based) VB employs specific behavioral research on the development of language and is designed to motivate a child to learn language by developing a connection between a word and its value.


Students with autism often require supports in the home and community, so coordination of care and comprehensive wrap around services are often needed.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

A Certified Occupational Therapist, (OT) brings together cognitive, physical and motor skills to enable the individual to gain independence and participate more fully in life. For a student with autism, the focus may be on appropriate play,fine motor and basic social and life skills such as handwriting, independent dressing,feeding, grooming and use of the toilet. The OT can recommend strategies for learning key tasks to practice in various settings.

Physical Therapy (PT)

A Certified Physical Therapist (PT), focuses on problems with movement that cause functional limitations. Students with autism frequently have challenges with motor skills such as sitting, walking, running and jumping, and PT can also address poor muscle tone, balance and coordination. An evaluation establishes the abilities and developmental level of the child, and activities or supports are designed to target areas of need.

Sensory Integration Therapy (SI)

(SI) therapy addresses disruptions in the way an individual’s brain processes sensory input, developing strategies to help process these senses in a more productive way. A sensory integration-trained OT or PT begins with an evaluation, and then uses research-based strategies to plan an individualized program for the child, matching sensory stimulation with physical movement to improve how the brain processes and organizes sensory information.

Speech-Language Therapy (SLT)

Certified Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP) use a variety of techniques to address a range of challenges for children with autism. SLT is designed to address the mechanics of speech and the meaning and social value of language. For students unable to speak, SLT includes training in other forms of communication, or oral exercises to promote better control of the mouth. For those who seem to talk incessantly about a certain topic, SLT might work on expanding the conversational repertoire, or reading social cues and adjusting conversation to the needs of the listener. An SLT program begins with an evaluation by an SLP and therapy may be conducted one-on-one, in a small group or in classroom/natural settings.