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Educational Priorities for Children with Autism

If you are the parent of a child who has been diagnosed with autism, or if you are an educator who specializes in working with students who have developmental disabilities, you know how important it is to develop a plan to teach useful skills. In a previous post, we reviewed how assessments like the ABLLS-R® and AFLS® can help you identify the skills your learner needs to develop to lead an independent and full life. Today, we’ll discuss the importance of setting educational priorities for your learner so that you can develop a comprehensive teaching plan that allows you to teach across multiple repertoires. Let’s review some important considerations for determining priorities in education for children with autism.

Educational Goal: Learning to Learn

When you are working through the process of determining education goals for your learner, it may help you to consider which skills are the most important ones for them to learn at this moment. Identifying your learner’s deficits is an important first step in developing an effective teaching plan. However, effective educational practices go beyond teaching plans that are geared to address only the learner’s deficits.

Effective educational practices rely on instructors who are well trained in behavioral teaching methodologies and who have a well-sequenced curriculum. This careful balance is an essential component of education for children with autism and other developmental delays as it can help maintain a learner’s motivation during instructional activities. Likewise, teaching to each specific skill may be effective, but it is not necessarily efficient. By teaching skills that allow your child to learn additional skills without highly specialized instruction, your child will “learn to learn.”


Teaching Across the ABLLS-R Skills Groupings

Basic Learner Skills

The ABLLS-R Protocol includes a grouping of skills called basic learner skills, and the protocol provides the basis for a curriculum that is designed to help your child “learn to learn.” Basic language skills are some of the first to emerge and develop in children, and the majority of instructional time should focus on developing these critical skills. Developmental skills may be taught concurrently with basic language skills, as is often the case with typically developing children. However, it is important to note that many other skills may not be as useful unless the learner has developed critical language skills that allow them to benefit from learning other skills.

The basic learner skills grouping represents 70 percent of the total skill items included in the ABLLS-R assessment. It outlines 15 skill areas that are critical to learning from everyday experiences, including:

  • Cooperation with learning activities
  • Specific receptive and expressive language skills
  • Imitation
  • Social interaction
  • Appropriate play
  • Group instruction participation
  • Following classroom routines
  • Generalization of acquired skills

Although the basic learner skills account for so much of the protocol, parents and educators should take care not to over-emphasize the development of only one or two skills. Skills are often assessed individually, but teaching activities can facilitate the development of several other skill areas. In fact, to ensure that your learner doesn’t have difficulty socializing, learning advanced skills, or completing common daily activities independently, parents and educators should teach across repertoire areas.

Academic Skills

There is often an emphasis placed on children learning academic skills that they will need in kindergarten. When determining goals for education for children with autism, it is important to remember that teaching to academic skills doesn’t necessarily ensure the child will be capable of learning new skills in a regular classroom. However, developing critical language skills can provide the learning with the foundation upon which other skills can be learned.

Self-Help Skills

Learning self-help skills is essential for your learner to lead an independent life, and many of the basic learner skills can be developed in conjunction with these skills. Getting dressed, for example, incorporates cooperation and imitation, as well as receptive and expressive language skills. A learner should develop self-help skills through daily routines, but the overall focus should remain on the development of language and other basic learner skills.

Motor Skills

Your learner needs both gross and fine motor skills to participate in a wide variety of activities, including dressing, social interactions, and academic activities. If your child demonstrates substantial motor skill deficits that interfere with the acquisition of other skills, it is important to place an emphasis on developing appropriate motor skills. As with the other skill groupings, there are many opportunities to develop motor skills while teaching other types of skills.

Selecting Targets for Instruction

After a skill assessment has been completed, you will need to select several skills on which to focus your educational goals. The intensity of the intervention varies from child to child depending on individual deficits. Regardless of the unique intervention plan you develop, keep in mind what we have discussed with regard to basic learner skills in today’s article. You may choose a few skills that will have the greatest overall impact while being the easiest to develop. Selecting learning targets from the basic learner skills, such as language, imitation, visual performance, and social interaction, will have a major impact on a young learner’s ability to “learn to learn.” Additionally, as you set autism education goals, it is always appropriate to consider helping your learner to develop motor skills and self-help skills to help teach functional living skills and independence.

Autism Education Services and Resources

At Partington Behavior Analysts, we are passionate about providing parents, educators, and clinicians the resources they need to provide education for children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Our autism education products, resources, and services can help you elevate the quality of your learner’s life, enabling them to learn the basic skills they need to lead a full and independent life. Additionally, we offer training workshops, online courses, and on-site consultations to complement your teaching experience. To discover more resources on helping your child learn basic skills, browse our products online or purchase your copy of Success on the Spectrum: How to Teach Skills to Individuals with Autism authored by James W. Partington, Ph.D., and Scott W., Partington, M.A. now.

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