The TEACCH program for children and adults with autism: A meta-analysis of intervention studies

Virues-Ortega, J., Julio, F. M., & Pastor-Barriuso, R. (2013). The TEACCH program for children and adults with autism: A meta-analysis of intervention studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 940-953.

Reviewed by: Antonia Giannakakos, Caldwell College

Why research this topic?

The Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) method is one of the most widely used interventions available to parents and teachers of children with autism. TEACCH emphasizes the provision of structured teaching based on an understanding of the “culture of autism:” preference for visual over auditory information, attention to detail but difficulty seeing the “big picture,” very strong interests in particular topics or activities, and attachment to routines. Common interventions include carefully organized work stations and use of visual supports to help individuals understand what is expected of them. These interventions are individualized based on a comprehensive evaluation of the strengths and needs of each person with ASD. Recently, enough studies have been published on TEACCH to enable investigators to conduct a meta-analysis, in which the results across different studies are statistically combined.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers identified 220 studies on the TEACCH method, 13 of which met all their criteria for inclusion in the meta-analysis. The researchers used only those studies that compared the children’s skills before the TEACCH method was used and again afterward, or that compared the skills of children receiving TEACCH to children receiving another or no intervention. The authors identified 15 skill areas addressed by the TEACCH method in the 13 studies and determined how effective it was for each skill area.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that, overall, the effects of TEACCH has had on skills in the areas of perception, motor movement, language, and cognition have been small. In the areas of social behavior and maladaptive behaviors (e.g., aggression) the researchers found that the TEACCH method has had moderate benefits. On average, the effects of the TEACCH method across all skill areas were moderate and appear to increase with the age of the child. The researchers cautioned that “higher methodological standards” are needed to increase confidence in these findings.

What were the strengths and limitations of the study?

A major strength of this study is that the researchers used appropriate criteria for including or excluding studies from their meta-analysis and systematically performed statistical tests to integrate the results and determine the effectiveness of the TEACCH method. One limitation is that some of the studies were eligible for inclusion in the meta-analysis but had incomplete data and therefore could not be included in the final analysis.

What do the results mean?
Overall, the effects of the TEACCH method on the skills of children with autism are small to moderate. Although these findings are promising, the researchers caution that available studies have methodological flaws that make it premature to draw conclusions about whether the TEACCH method is effective or ineffective. Further studies with improved designs are needed to carefully evaluate TEACCH effects.

Cite This:

Giannakakos, A. (2014). Research Synopsis: Virues-Ortega, Julio & Pastor-Barriuso (2013): The TEACCH program for children and adults with autism: A meta-analysis of intervention studies. Science in Autism Treatment, 11(2), pp. 26-27.

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