Unwrapping the Gifts of Independence and Choice – A Review of Activity Schedules for Children with Autism: Teaching Independent Behavior

McClannahan, L.E. & Krantz, P.J. (1998). Activity schedules for children with autism: Teaching independent behavior. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.

Reviewed by Catherine Maurice, PhD
ASAT Co-Founder and Advisory Board Member

Currently, popular works on autism intervention tend to fall into a few broad categories including, but not limited to:

Group A

Opinion books, in which assertions about treatment are based largely upon the author’s personal beliefs, masquerading as received wisdom (what “we” supposedly know or do not know about autism). Little if any quality research is cited to back up such opinions: authors tend to cite not peer-reviewed studies, but their own fame, their “thirty years in the field.” Typically, such works trumpet the appealing but unfortunately vacuous premise that there are many options” for treating autism, while offering neither clear description nor solid scientific support for such options. Such opinion-based works have contributed heavily to the lack of effective services for autistic children.

Group B

Coping books, whose authors (typically not parents themselves), claim nevertheless a deep understanding of the impact of autism on families. These authorities see their job as analyzing various parental personality types and their respective abilities to cope with an autism diagnosis. While such coping is a laudable goal, it is a matter of some debate whether the great majority of these books actually achieve that end, or whether they simply prolong the Bettleheimian model of psychoanalyzing parents, instead of offering concrete help for their children.

Group C

They can reformulate, redescribe, and recategorize the symptoms of autism. As a parent I know, remarks, “How many ways can you peel an onion?” In this bleak literary landscape, the occasional work that is actually databased, and strongly anchored in both credible research and solid clinical experience, is a rarity. When such a work also offers concrete help for people, it becomes a blessing.

McClannahan and Krantz have written such a book. Their Activity Schedules for Children with Autism offers practical, step by step advice on how parents and teachers can help children to learn and to function with greatly reduced adult supervision. Using the teaching tool called “activity schedules”—sets of pictures or words that cue a child to engage in a sequence of activities—they demonstrate how children can be taught to independently engage in everything from playing with toys to holding social conversation without reliance on constant adult prompting. For the many parents who cannot access good, center- based programs for their child; this book represents a generous source of truly expert knowledge and concrete assistance. For those who want to increase their effectiveness in working with autistic children, this work provides clear discussion and clear examples of an important teaching tool. Chapters cover topics of assessing a child’s readiness to use activity schedules, as well as constructing, introducing, monitoring and fading such schedules. Apparent throughout the work is the authors’ deep and caring commitment to increase independence, choice and social interaction for the children they serve.