An effective social competence curriculum, with a virtual classroom component, that could help educators meet the demands of autistic kids is being developed by researchers at the University of Missouri.
As the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders continues to increase, the one thing that won't change is the need for those children to develop social skills.
Statistics show that if these students are able to communicate effectively, they can achieve success in the classroom, and later, in the workplace.
In addition to the challenges facing each individual student, educators find themselves facing dwindling resources.
Now, Janine Stichter, a professor of special education at the MU College of Education, and her team have developed a curriculum that has shown success in an after-school format and is now being tested during daily school activities, with help from two three-year grants from the Institute of Educational Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education.
The key factors in Stichter's curriculum focus on specific needs and behavioral traits within the autism spectrum. By doing this, the instructor is able to deliver a more individualized instruction within a small group format and optimize the response to intervention.
"Children with autism have three core deficit areas: difficulty with communication, issues with repetitive behaviors, and social competence," Stichter said.
"Social competency has a big impact on communication and is essential for post-school outcomes. While there are several social curricula available, they haven't adequately discriminated between and targeted certain parts of the population. At MU, we've worked to develop intervention to meet specific needs, similar to a medical model for treating cancer: doctors don't use one treatment model for all forms of cancer, for example."
High-functioning children on the autism spectrum usually have trouble with determining and managing goals, understanding others' feelings, and regulating emotions.
Stichter's curriculum focuses the student on recognizing facial expressions, sharing ideas, taking turns, exploring feelings and emotions, and problem solving.