Choosing Appropriate Interventions for Students with ASD
By Lisa Barrett Mann, MSEd
Every teacher wants their students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to succeed—to learn, to have friends, to eventually have careers, and to live independently. The big question, though, is how do you help them achieve that?
“Students with ASD often struggle with academic and social-behavioral expectations at school, home, and in the community,” said Glennda McKeithan, Ph.D., program associate with the University of Kansas’ Online Graduate Programs in Special Education for Autism Spectrum Disorder. “The research consistently shows improved outcomes when a student’s specific needs are identified and then appropriate evidence-based practices are implemented to address those needs as soon as possible. For learners on the spectrum, every moment REALLY counts! Educators and other professionals have an ethical obligation to make the most of each instructional opportunity if they’re going to maximize the student’s potential for success.”
Evidence-Based Practices for Autism
Evidence-based practices (EBPs) for ASD are educational and behavioral interventions that have been shown effective for individuals with autism through multiple, high-quality, peer-reviewed studies. Of course, the research is continually evolving, and it would be virtually impossible for any one person to read and analyze all the ASD intervention research. It takes a team of trained reviewers with background knowledge and education in autism to compile and evaluate the research. One group taking on that task is the National Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice (NCAEP).
In 2020, NCAEP released its latest report: Evidence-based Practices for Children, Youth, and Young Adults with Autism (Steinbrenner et al., 2020). For this review, 972 high-quality research studies on autism interventions, conducted between 1990 and 2017, were identified, systematically reviewed, and classified. The result: A finding of 28 evidence-based practices appropriate for use with individuals with ASD, ages birth-22:
- Antecedent-Based Interventions
- Augmentative and Alternative Communication
- Behavioral Momentum Intervention
- Cognitive Behavioral/Instructional Strategies
- Differential Reinforcement of Alternative, Incompatible, or Other Behavior
- Direct Instruction
- Discrete Trial Training
- Exercise and Movement
- Functional Behavioral Assessment
- Functional Communication Training
- Music-Mediated Intervention
- Naturalistic Intervention
- Parent-Implemented Intervention
- Peer-Based Instruction and Intervention
- Response Interruption/Redirection
- Sensory Integration®
- Social Narratives
- Social Skills Training
- Task Analysis
- Technology-Aided Instruction and Intervention
- Time Delay
- Video Modeling
- Visual Supports
While NCAEP had previously identified most of these interventions as evidence-based (Wong, 2013), five new categories were added in this report, including augmentative and alternative communication, behavioral momentum intervention, direct instruction, music-mediated intervention, and Sensory Integration®. Definitions of the interventions are available at http://go.unc.edu/2020EBPs
Teaching EBPs at KU
Of course, knowing how to help a student with ASD involves a lot more than just following a list. Just as students with ASD vary widely, so do the appropriate interventions. While some graduate programs focus primarily on interventions for lower functioning students, the KU Department of Special Education’s eclectic approach ensures our graduates are prepared to work with the entire spectrum of students with autism.
A student with very low verbal abilities might make great strides using the Picture Exchange Card System (PECS) or another alternative, or augmentative communications system. That intervention might not be appropriate for a high-functioning, highly verbal student (who might previously have been diagnosed with “Asperger Syndrome”), but that student might make significant improvements with social skills training or cognitive behavioral interventions. Either of them might benefit from their teacher being able to task analyze a skill or do a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) of a problem behavior. Fortunately for students, teachers who complete KU special education programs graduate ready to implement a whole spectrum of EBPs—for the whole spectrum of students with ASD.
“Our students learn EBPs they can immediately implement into practice,” said Dr. McKeithan, but emphasizes that a good grounding in ASD intervention means more than being trained in a set of discrete skills. “Evidence-based interventions must be integrated into instruction to address the needs of the whole student. Through a variety of readings, activities, and interactions with other students and staff, KU graduate students develop a clearer sense of the variation often seen in students with ASD at different levels of functioning. They learn to apply assessment methodology to gather more information, and how to apply appropriate EBPs to address socially important challenges for this population.”
If you’re interested in helping special education students develop academic and life skills, consider how the online graduate programs in special education at the University of Kansas in autism can help you accomplish your goals and enable you to fully support your students.
Steinbrenner, J. R., Hume, K., Odom, S. L., Morin, K. L., Nowell, S. W., Tomaszewski, B., Szendrey, S., McIntyre, N. S., Yücesoy-Özkan, S., & Savage, M. N. (2020). Evidence-based practices for children, youth, and young adults with Autism. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, National Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice Review Team.
Wong, C., Odom, S. L., Hume, K. Cox, A. W., Fettig, A., Kucharczyk, S., … Schultz, T. R. (2013). Evidence-based practices for children, youth, and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, Autism Evidence-Based Practice Review Group