Effects of an Individual Work System on the Independent Functioning of Students with Autism
Hume, K., & Odom, S. (2007). Effects of an individual work system on the independent functioning of students with autism. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 37, 1166-1180.
Reviewed by Kathleen Moran, MA
Why research this topic?
Project TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication handicapped Children) was the first public school program for children with autism and remains one of the most popular intervention models for these children. TEACCH emphasizes structured teaching and clear visual organization of classrooms and activities A key component of TEACCH is the use of individual work systems, which organize tasks into separate bins, provide “jigs” to guide children in completing these tasks, and set up a place to put the tasks when they are done. Work systems are intended to increase independence while reducing the need for prompts from a teacher. However, the efficacy of TEACCH work systems had never been scientifically tested until this study.
What did the researchers do?
Three students with autism participated. Each student was initially in a baseline phase (no work system). The baseline phase was followed by an intervention phase in which the work system was introduced. After the intervention phase, each child returned to the baseline phase, and then the intervention was re-introduced. This procedure allowed for a careful test of whether the work system changed each child‘s behavior. The researchers measured each child‘s on-task behavior, work completion, and number of play items used. They conducted a follow-up assessment of these behaviors one month after the end of the last intervention phase to see whether the effects of intervention were still evident.
What did the researchers find?
For all three children in the study, independent work and play activities increased when work systems were introduced and decreased when work systems were taken away. Thus, the work systems improved children‘s independent engagement in tasks. In addition, work systems decreased the amount of prompting from staff members.
What are the strengths and limitations of the study? What do the results mean?
This study used a strong scientific design to provide the first scientific evidence that TEACCH work systems are effective. Replications by other investigators will be necessary to determine whether similarly favorable results can be achieved for other children with autism and other classroom staff. Also, it was unclear in the study whether the number of prompts from teachers decreased because children really needed fewer prompts or simply because teachers were aware that the work systems were being evaluated. It was also unclear which of the many components of the work systems contributed to children‘s improvements. Additional studies will be needed to address these issues, but the present study provides promising initial evidence for the effectiveness of TEACCH work systems.