walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_The TEACCH Approach to Autism Spectrum Disorders_, Mesibov et al

Published by Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, I got this within the Minuteman Library Network. The short form of this review is: it's good, I'm tempted to buy it for my own library and may do so, just to have ongoing access to the references at the end of each chapter.

TEACCH is the North Carolina program for children, adolescents and adults with ASD. Notable from the very beginning of the book is the antipathy the program bears Bruno Bettelheim (and which, I might add, I consider well-deserved), so if you think Bettelheim is unjustly demonized, this is going to piss you off.

Two chapters in this book really stand out as unusual in a text on autism: Chapter 9, "Providing Diagnostic Information to Parents" and Chapter 12, "Training Issues". TEACCH has taken their philosophy of services and program development and applied it to Really Important Things, like, how to tell parents their kid does (or does not) have ASD. I'm not joking. This is a big transition, and it is often not handled well, largely because it isn't consciously taught to the people who are delivering the diagnosis. If you go into this knowing what to expect, it doesn't necessarily matter much; if you go into it having no mortal clue what's up with your kid, a pro who has been taught effective ways of communicating (and good judgment about what to communicate, at what pace, in what context) is going to make a big difference in your life.

Training Issues deals with the issue of teaching TEACCH to people, whether teachers, service providers (OT, speech therapists, etc.), parents, etc. It's a nice overview of why lecture + text doesn't work very well and an exploration of alternative strategies. I greatly appreciated their inclusion of this discussion.

The remainder of the book is more straightforwardly what you would expect from this kind of book: what is TEACCH, how did it get started, how do they understand their value system and apply it, their conception of a "culture of autism" (<-- a good thing), their educational and service provision approach ("Structured Teaching") and so forth. The chapter on Parents is remarkable for the detailed description of what people have tried to do with parents (starting with blame and working up from there), but is not remarkable for detailed advice for parents.

The Social Skills chapter is good in part because it spends useful time on what does not work well: just sticking ASD kids in an environment with neurotypical kids is largely useless (possibly less than useless), and skills learned in isolation by people with ASD don't generalize. They are prepared to go further (part of the "culture of autism") and recognize that it's probably better to have people who get some pleasure from being with other people, than to have people who can technically execute on social skills like "eye contact" but who want as little to do with other people as they can possibly get away with.

I could go on, but you're probably better off just reading it yourself if you're interested. If you're like me, you'll be digging around in the references at the end of each chapter for other things to read. The biggest bummer about the book is that it is from 2005 and does not appear to have a new edition. As a result, the population being discussed, particularly in the sections on adult populations, is disproportionately intellectually disabled, which reflects diagnostic standards and the community of diagnosis until very recently. This is an issue which will likely become more conspicuous every year that goes by.
Tags: autism, book review, non-fiction
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