Description: A systematic approach to teaching and maintaining basic academic skills. It involves the use of carefully designed curriculum with detailed sequences of instruction including learning modules that students must master before advancing to the next level. Students are taught individually or in small groups that are made up of students with similar academic skills. Instructors follow a script for presenting materials, requiring frequent responses from students, minimizing errors, and giving positive reinforcement (such as praise) for correct responding.

Research Summary: Direct instruction has been shown to be an effective teaching method for a variety of academic areas such as reading, spelling, and mathematics in a variety of general and special education preschool and elementary school settings. There has not been research on its application specifically to individuals with autism.

Recommendations: While direct instruction has clearly been shown to be an effective teaching strategy for a variety of populations, additional research is needed specifically with individuals with autism.

Selected References:

Systematic reviews of scientific studies:


Adams, G., & Carnine, D. (2003). Direct instruction. In. H. L. Swanson, K. R. Harris, & S. Graham (Eds.), Handbook of learning disabilities (pp. 403-416). New York: Guilford Press.

Harniss, M. K., Stein, M., & Carnine, D. (2002). Promoting mathematics achievement. In M. R. Shinn, H. M. Walker, & G. Stoner (Eds.), Interventions for academic and behavior problems II: Preventive and remedial approaches (pp. 571-587). Washington, DC, US: National Association of School Psychologists, 2002.

Weisberg, P. (1994). Helping preschoolers from low-income backgrounds make substantial progress in reading through direct instruction. In R. Gardner III, D.M. Sainato, J.O. Cooper, T.E. Heron, and W.L. Heward (Eds), Behavior analysis in education: Focus on measurably superior instruction (pp. 115-129).Belmont, CA, Thomson Brooks/Cole Publishing Co.

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