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Educating Children with Autism
tation of the intervenor, must also reflect individual differences among children. For children who exhibit very little appropriate spontaneous behavior, adult-directed instruction may be the most effective approach to acquiring new behaviors, with more child-centered and peer strategies used to build fluency, generalization, and maintenance. For children who generate more appropriate behavior in the face of new stimuli, child-centered approaches may be as effective as (or more effective than) adult instruction in building a wider repertoire of skills. The need to tailor instruction to the individual learning styles and needs of each child requires that educators of children with autism be fluent in a wide range of educational strategies across various theoretical traditions. In this way, the educator can maximally individualize instruction and achieve the best results possible. It is axiomatic that methods that do not result in educational gains should be replaced by other approaches.
FROM RESEARCH TO PRACTICE
More empirical data are available to support the efficacy of behavioral interventions than developmental interventions. However, no comparative studies have been published that support one methodology over another. The field has very little data on effectiveness of developmental approaches for social development in early autism. Given the popularity of developmentally appropriate practices in other areas of early childhood education, empirical studies of the effectiveness of developmentally based interventions are needed to determine their relative value for stimulating growth in young children with autistic spectrum disorders.
Comparative studies of varying approaches are needed. Given the current debates about the appropriateness of various approaches and their relative effectiveness in modifying social behaviors, the field needs comparative studies of the social outcomes achieved by various approaches to intervention for young children with autism. Informative studies would include very careful control of independent variables so that the approaches themselves, and not the hours or child/adult ratios, are compared.
Studies that examine interactions of learner characteristics and rate of progress under varying educational methodologies are also needed. The social strengths and needs of young children with autism vary widely. No one approach would be expected to be appropriate for all children. There is a need for sophisticated studies that carefully examine the interactions among program variables and child variables in the social domain, so that real individualization can be achieved.