The relationship between teachers’ positive attitudes towards pupils on autistic spectrum and successful implementation of TEACCH programme in mainstream classrooms

By Kamil Trzebiatowski (2012)
for the University of the West of Scotland

More and more pupils with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) attend mainstream schools in the UK. Since the Equality Act 2010 requires schools to ensure full participation of disabled students in the education by making reasonable adjustments and Index for inclusion (Booth and Ainscow, 2002) calls for reducing barriers to learning for all pupils, schools need to consider a variety approaches which will benefit pupils with autism. This report analyses how effective the implementation of TEACCH programme for pupils on ASD might be and will look at what role teachers’ attitudes to such pupils play in its successful implementation. I view teachers’ informed practice and attitudes among the most crucial factors in successful inclusion of such learners at schools, hence my choice to discuss this issue.

I will first briefly review the history and certain theories of the causes of autism. I will then explain what exactly the TEACCH programme is, what procedures it involves and will review research conducted into the effectiveness of TEACCH in the classroom. Further, I will describe the difficulties pupils have been known to experience in mainstream schools in the UK and their perceptions of the attitudes of teachers towards them. I will then look at the studies into teachers’ attitudes to children with ASD and how these might impact the outcomes of the TEACCH approach in the classrooms. In the report’s conclusion, I will make recommendations for good practice with regards to the inclusion and achievement of the pupils with ASD in mainstream schools.

This report has been informed by the views of my colleague Camille, a Manager of Additional Resource Provision (MARP) at Rosemary High[1].

The understanding of the nature of autism is crucial to being able to effectively support learners who suffer from it. Leo Kanner was the first to describe autism, considering it “an inborn disturbance of affective contact” (1943, in p.3, Volkmar and Wiesner, 2009). He also saw such children as resisting change, insisting on routines and exhibiting unusual behaviours such as rocking, hand flapping and unusual language. This understanding of autistic features is further developed by Wing (1996, in Dunlop et al., 2009) who states that autism is usually characterized by the triad of impairments in: social communication, social interaction as well as social imagination and flexible thinking. Baron-Cohen (2008), however, reminds us of the distinction made nowadays between classic autism (Kanner’s) and Asperger syndrome: both are on the autistic spectrum (AS) as they share difficulties in social communication, limited interests and repetition of actions; however, whilst the IQ of children with classic autism can vary greatly and they experience language delay, the IQ in children with AS is average or greater and they experience no language delay.

The TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication handicapped CHildren) programme is designed around the idea of Structured Teaching (Mesibov and Howley, 2003), which is about classroom organization, teaching and styles that are autism-friendly. Through it, the expectations of such pupils are made clear to them and the teaching is informed by their strengths, deficits and interests. Among such strengths, Hanbury (2005) lists visual processing, preference for routines and special interests whilst deficits might include verbal communication difficulties, organizational skills, high distractability and auditory processing. Informed by these notions, the TEACCH programme is composed of four elements (Mesibov and Howley, 2003):

  • Physical structure: It will be important to decide on the physical layout of the classroom and the location of the furniture. Pupils with ASD will benefit from the clear labelling of materials and resources and the ability to access them easily. Teachers should establish work areas for such pupils, ensuring they allow both independent and group work and that areas where completed work is to be placed is clearly marked.
  • Visual schedules: Since predictability and routines are important to pupils with ASD, visual schedules help establish such routines. Classrooms should have a transition area where pupils might go to check what activity is next. They will also need their personal portable schedules. These can be pictures, photos or drawings representing their upcoming activities in chronological order, e.g. a desk representing work time or symbols to signify next lesson or what type of activity is required. Pupils might not be able to deal with a full-day schedule and schedule might need to represent only portions of a day.
  • Work systems: These need to communicate to the pupils what needs doing, how many tasks they need to do, how they will know when they are finished and what happens after they have finished. Such systems may take a written form, e.g. pupils crossing off boxes after completing tasks or can involve pictures, symbols, numbers, colours or objects – pupils might be asked to move worksheets from a tray on their left (to do tasks) to the one on their right (completed).
  • Visual structure and information: Visual structure needs to be present in teachers’ tasks and activities themselves, including visual clarity (highlighting the most relevant sentences or the most important section in a worksheet), visual organization (any materials given to the pupils need to be neatly pre-organized to save the pupils from distraction) and visual instructions (visual representations of how a task is to be carried out).

Many have reported great benefits of such well-structured, visual-based approach to people with autism. Probst and Leppert’s (2008) study finds that training teachers in the employment of TEACCH has resulted in reducing behavioural issues in students with ASD and contributed to the reduction of teachers’ stress as well. Similarly, in their study of 34 male children with ASD, Panerai et al. (2009) found that TEACCH was particularly effective in natural setting (mainstream schools), improving pupils’ daily living skills, socialization and interpersonal relationship skills and behaviour. They conclude that TEACCH and inclusion support each other and urge for a structured approach to be utilized at schools. This is strengthened in Hume and Odom’s (2007) research into the effectiveness of work systems (part of TEACCH) on the independent functioning of pupils with autism in natural settings. The participants’ (2 children, 1 young adult) independence increased as did their ability to complete more tasks, and their off-task behaviour decreased.

Camille (MARP, Rosemary High) believes that organizing workstations would be very difficult in mainstream classrooms. She states that teachers do not have time for the very high level of special education specialization normally required by TEACCH. However, she also says: “I believe that elements of TEACCH can be used very successfully – for example to create a predictable learning environment,” and points to the importance of classroom layout, schedules and visual resources in fostering pupils’ independence.

Since TEACCH has been seen as potentially beneficial to pupils with ASD, teachers’ attitudes to working with such pupils should be examined. Up to 21% of pupils with ASD in the UK have been excluded as schools were unable to cope with the children in absence of specialist staff (Barnard, Prior and Potter, 2000). Pupils with Asperger syndrome in Humphrey and Lewis’s research (2008) believed that certain teachers did not understand pupils’ needs and were unsure how to differentiate their work for them, sometimes resulting in very little pupil-teacher interaction. Humphrey and Symes (2011) report that classroom teachers feel less confident than SEN Co-ordinators and senior management in teaching pupils with ASD and coping with their literal thinking and social understanding difficulties, with the displays of inappropriate emotions found as the most difficult. Jennett, Harris and Mesibov (2003) claim that teachers with greater commitment and understanding of their teaching approach (for example TEACCH) feel a greater sense of efficacy and are less prone to burnout. My colleague Camille delivered very comprehensive training to all the teachers at her school last year and, although the teachers were initially apprehensive, their awareness of autism resulted in positive autism-friendly ethos at the school. Teacher training, therefore, can be seen as essential – it will allow teachers to challenge pre-existing low expectations of pupils with ASD, ensure pupils achieve (Humphrey, 2008) and remove the danger of teachers incorporating TEACCH (or other approaches) without awareness of what autism is (Jordan and Powell, 1997). Humphrey and Lewis (2008) provide a reminder that an inclusive school ethos and head teachers’ ‘top-down’ (p.138) approach to inclusion will benefit pupils with ASD. Bowen and Plimey (2008) add that training is effective only if participants are enthusiastic about it and suggests that when it is difficult to convince teachers about its validity, reminding them of every school’s legal obligation to cater to the needs of pupils with ASD might be a good start.

Given the positive impact that the TEACCH programme has on pupils with ASD, I would encourage teachers to incorporate it into their practice. Even if all aspects of TEACCH are not always feasible, those that can are seen as beneficial and can help remove anxiety and frustration that pupils with ASD experience, foster social skills and promote pupils’ independence. I see the introduction of visual-based activities, visual schedules and autism-friendly classroom layout as dependent primarily on teachers’ initiative rather than on school budgets. Therefore, successful incorporation of the majority of TEACCH elements is both advisable and attainable.

However, since inclusive education is about meeting everyone’s individual learning needs (Evans, 2007) and since introducing all aspects of TEACCH is not always possible in mainstream classrooms, I believe teachers should avoid “falling back” exclusively on the TEACCH approach but rather see it as one of many options available for helping their pupils. This goal is attainable only if teachers are sufficiently knowledgeable about autism not to be threatened by the absence of learning assistants and special teachers in their classrooms. Teacher training and highly efficient collaboration with schools’ SFL/SEN coordinators is crucial to ensuring teachers’ greater knowledge about autism and ongoing positive attitude to pupils with autism and therefore successful incorporation of the TEACCH programme.


 Barnard, J., Prior, A. and Potter, D. (2000) Inclusion and autism: is it working? 1,000 examples of inclusion in education and adult life from The National Autistic Society’s members. London: The National Autistic Society

Baron-Cohen, S. (2008) Autism and Asperger Syndrome. New York: Oxford University Press

Booth, T. and Ainscow, M. (2002) Index for Inclusion: developing learning and participation in schools. Available at: <> [Accessed 17 December 2011]

Bowen, M. and Plimley, L. (2008) The Autism Inclusion Toolkit: Training Materials and Facilitator Notes. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore: Sage

Dunlop, A., Tait, C., Leask, A., Glashan, L., Robinson, A. and Marwick, H. (2009) The Autism Toolbox: An Autism Resource for Scottish Schools. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 December 2011]

Equality Act 2010 (c.15). London: HMSO

Evans, L. (2007) Inclusion. Abingdon: David Fulton Publishers

Hanbury, M. (2005) Educating Pupils With Autistic Spectrum Disorders – A Practical Guide. London: Paul Chapman

Hume, K. and Odom, S. (2007) ‘Effects of an Individual Work System on the Independent Functioning of Students with Autism ‘, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vol. 37 (6), pp. 1166-1180

Humphrey, N. (2008) ‘Including pupils with autistic spectrum disorders in mainstream schools’, Support for Learning, Vol. 23 (1), pp. 41-47

Humphrey, N. and Lewis, S. (2008) ”Make me normal’: The views and experiences of pupils on the autistic spectrum in mainstream secondary schools’, Autism, Vol. 12 (1), pp. 23-46

Humphrey, N. and Lewis, S. (2008) ‘What does ‘inclusion’ mean for pupils on the autistic spectrum in mainstream secondary schools?’, Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, Vol. 8 (3), pp. 132-140

Humphrey, N. and Symes, W. (2011) ‘Inclusive education for pupils with autistic spectrum disorders in secondary mainstream schools: teacher attitudes, experience and knowledge’, International Journal of Inclusive Education, DOI:10.1080/13603116.2011.580462

Jennett, H.K., Harris, S.L. and Mesibov, G.B. (2003) ‘Commitment to Philosophy, Teacher Efficacy, and Burnout Among Teachers of Children with Autism’, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vol. 33 (6), pp. 583-593

Jordan, R. and Powell, S. (1997) ‘Translating theory into practice’. In: Powell, S. and Jordan, R. (eds.) Autism and Learning: A guide to good practice. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 13-24

Panerai, S., Zingale, M., Trubia, G., Finocchiaro, M., Zuccarello, R., Ferri, R. and Elia, M. (2009) ‘Special Education Versus Inclusive Education: The Role of the TEACCH Program’, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vol. 39 (6), pp. 874-882

Probst, P. and Lepper, T. (2008) ‘Brief Report: Outcomes of a Teacher Training Program for Autism Spectrum Disorders’, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vol. 38 (9), pp. 1791-1796

Volkmar, F.R. and Wiesner, L.A. (2009) A Practical Guide to Autism: What Every Parent, Family Member and Teacher Needs to Know. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


 Interview with Camille, Manager of Additional Resource Provision

at Rosemary High

Conducted on 15 December 2011


List of Questions:


  1. 1.      How wide is the teacher’s knowledge of autism itself? Do you feel the teachers understand the nature of the condition? If not, what are the greatest obstacles?
  2. 2.      Do you believe that teachers are ready to accept students on autistic spectrum into mainstream schools? Why? Why not? What are the issues? What could/should be done, in your opinion, to improve the situation?
  3. 3.      What is the teachers’ attitude towards children with autism in their classrooms? What are the greatest difficulties in terms of teachers’ approach? How well do they collaborate with yourself and any other specialists?
  4. 4.      Are classroom assistants aware of the needs of the autistic spectrum children or do you feel the need for improvements in this area?
  5. 5.      How does the effectiveness of the recently set up unit at the school compare, in your opinion, to students attending regular classrooms?
  6. 6.      Given that secondary schools are such busy, unpredictable environment, how much do the students benefit from lessons in mainstream classrooms and how much from lessons when they are withdrawn to the unit?
  7. 7.      How much support do you receive from the school’s senior management and local authority? What type of support do you feel you receive?



  1. 8.      Do you feel that it is practicable and possible to introduce TEACCH program in mainstream classrooms? Are there any problems achieving that?
  2. 9.      Which aspects of the programme are/would be the easiest to introduce? (physical organization, schedules, work systems) Which are the most difficult?
  3. 10.  Is the budget one of the aspects standing in the way of possible introduction of TEACCH into classrooms? Any other aspects that play an important role here?
  4. 11.  In your professional opinion, how practical and effective is TEACCH programme as opposed to other learning/teaching approaches?


[1] The names of the interviewee and his/her workplace have been altered for confidentiality purposes.


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