Understanding Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Educators Partnering with Families


Michelle R. Haney

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    This book developed from my search for a comprehensive yet engaging textbook I could use in my own classroom teaching students and professionals beginning to learn about the complex and fascinating research in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Understanding Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: Educators Partnering With Families is an introductory textbook that presents the significant body of research and theory in the field of autism within the larger context of understanding the unique sociocultural dimensions of individuals with ASD and their families.

    As awareness about ASD increases and prevalence rates of ASD soar, there is a need for all educators and professionals working with children with ASD and their families to understand a wide range of topics associated with ASD. The goals of this text are to introduce educators and other professionals to the complexity and diversity of children with ASD, the wide range of interventions and processes for making decisions about choosing interventions, teaming with parents to provide optimal educational opportunities, and the personal/professional growth that is likely to take place during such a journey. Although the text provides a research-based overview of autism within a theoretical framework that addresses key issues for both children and adults with ASD, the text emphasizes diagnosis, intervention, and support issues most germane to families with children and adolescents. This book is significantly different from others on the market because of the organizing theme recognizing the necessity of collaboration with families to effectively meet the needs of children with ASD. In addition, this book integrates a discussion of sociocultural characteristics of families.

    This is an introductory text primarily targeting preservice teachers, advanced undergraduate students in psychology or preprofessional programs, and students in graduate-level education programs. The text is intended to serve as a core text for a semester- or quarter-long introductory college-level course about ASD and would also be appropriate as a supplementary text in a course about developmental disabilities or a more general course about disabilities. Given the unprecedented prevalence rates of ASD in children, the increasing efforts of advocates to ensure that children with ASD receive appropriate educational support, and the trend toward inclusion and noncategorical teacher credentialing, education programs across the nation are increasingly adding courses that explicitly address ASD. This text will also be attractive to a wider audience of students from a variety of disciplines, including speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, nursing, pediatrics, school administration, psychology, and counseling (particularly school psychology and school counseling).

    The text fills an important niche in the cadre of autism textbooks for three primary reasons:

    • Families as partners for collaboration to formulate learning goals, implement interventions, and assess learning skills. Educators are best able to address learning goals when they partner with families to create collaborative supportive teams. Parents are a critical information source about their child. Parents have known the child the longest, seen their child across time and settings, and are invaluable in planning effective and meaningful educational and therapeutic programs. Furthermore, families can greatly enhance the progress toward achieving goals through generalization of skills, support through modeling and rewards, and suggestions for program maintenance when glitches are discovered.
    • Sociocultural dimensions of family as the framework for exploring issues surrounding autism and collaborating with families. Research shows the importance of family involvement in school for a child's success. The strengths and needs of any child cannot be comprehensively understood without understanding the child within the context of the family. Planning the most appropriate services for the child with autism is dependent on understanding the child's role in the family, the manner in which other family members relate to the child and his or her needs, the child's perception of themselves within the family context, the social-cultural history of the family, and other aspects of the family dynamics.

      Some types of disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, severe visual and hearing impairments, are associated with easier access to community resources and an earlier diagnosis, resulting in a different trajectory of family needs. Exceptionalities such as autism are not associated with easily observed physical or cognitive deficits and may be diagnosed later in childhood. Children with these exceptionalities often have less access to community resources. Furthermore, those within and outside of the family may deny the neurological basis of these exceptionalities and instead blame parenting practices, educational opportunities, and the motivations of the child.

      Some disorders cause a greater degree of disruption within the family or limitation of the family's ability to travel and engage in activities in public. These issues are important to consider when working with children and families, as they can affect quality of life of all family members, the family's willingness to engage in a team approach with educators, and choosing goals that address real-life concerns and needs.

    • Strong pedagogical supports to help students make connections between research, theory, and real-life practices, including case studies, reflection and discussion questions, recommendations for further readings, and key vocabulary for each chapter.

      • Each chapter opens with a list of bulleted learning objectives highlighting key concepts.
      • Each chapter includes Chapter Reflection features relevant to the chapter's topic. This feature includes a wide range of interviews of parents, teachers, advocates, and researchers in the field of ASD. Follow-up reflection and discussion questions are provided.
      • At the end of each chapter, five to six discussion questions help students apply research and theory. Several questions integrate featured information presented in highlighted section.
      • A list of recommended readings and websites follows each chapter.
      • A chapter summary is provided at the end of each chapter.
      • A glossary of terms frequently used in the research and practice involving ASD.
      • Objectives are identified in each chapter addressing the Knowledge and Standards for Teachers as established by the Council for Exceptional Children's Division of Autism and Developmental Disabilities.

    Our understanding of ASD continues to change as we learn more about factors such as the neurobiology, genetics, environmental influences, and sociocultural influences that underlie this disorder. However, many issues remain constant. Families and children will always benefit from educators and other support providers that provide current information and resources in a manner that is respectful and empowers individuals and their families to make informed choices. It is my hope that this book will help those working with individuals who have autism and their families collaborate more effectively across settings and throughout the life span.


    This writing project was my response to a perceived need for an integrated and engaging textbook for students and professionals beginning to learn about the complex and fascinating research in ASD. First, I must thank my enthusiastic Berry College students for inspiring me to write this book to provide a meaningful resource for teaching a course in ASD. I would like to especially thank my graduate research assistant, Samantha Bell, and psychology student lab assistants Erica Radford, Hailey Purvis, Hillary Gann, and Haley Gresham, who were always willing to review chapters, check references, and other very helpful support tasks. Thanks to my father, Ted Rosen, who inspired me to pursue research and clinical work aimed at reducing barriers and promoting quality of life for individuals with developmental disabilities across the spectrum. I would also like to acknowledge that my year of sabbatical was a gift from Berry College and without which completion of this writing project would have been significantly more difficult. Appreciation and thanks to my incredible faculty secretary, Glenda Helms, who took care of many daily work details so I could devote more time to writing and my colleagues in the psychology department, who encouraged me to pursue this project. Love and reality checks from my husband, Shane, and our dear children, Lucy and Alex, inspired me to continue a focus on the importance of the family in life and in research. Many times while writing this book, I have also reflected upon my years working with educators, school psychologists, administrators, parents, and, of course, children with ASD. Thanks are due to those individuals in the Cobb County, Georgia, school system, and especially the Hawthorne Program, for impacting my life in such a profound way. My great appreciation goes to the many individuals who shared their stories and their experiences with me during interviews for this book. It is my hope that your life experiences are honored as a means of teaching future educators and other professionals about supporting children with ASD and their families. In particular, I would like to thank Eustacia Cutler for her encouragement and generosity in sharing her wisdom and life experiences with me over the course of several phone interviews. I would also like to offer thanks to the reviewers who generously provided valuable feedback about book chapters along the way. Reviewers for this book included the following:

    Misty Ballew, Ed.D., Lipscomb University

    Jonna Bobzien, Old Dominion University

    Dr. Jan Charone-Sossin, Pace University

    Francine L. Dreyfus, Pace University

    Ruth B. Eren, Ed.D., Southern Connecticut University

    Cheryl Fielding, University of Texas – Pan American

    Cathy Gaylon Keramidas, West Virginia University

    Jennifer A. Kurth, Northern Arizona University

    Susan Longtin, Brooklyn College

    Jennifer McFarland-Whisman, Marshall University

    Kim Schulze, St. Cloud University of Louisville

    Ellin Siegel, Ph.D., University of Nebraska – Lincoln

    Thomas J. Simmons, University of Louisville

    Dr. John J. Wheeler, Tennessee Technical University

    Acknowledgment and thanks are due to Wesley H. Dotson and Charryse Fouquette Luckey for their contributions to the chapter on Applied Behavior Analysis. I wish these talented individuals all the best in their clinical work and research.

    I would like to offer thanks to Neil Salkind for his years of encouragement and feedback during every stage of this project. Also, SAGE editor Diane McDaniel and editorial assistant Megan Koraly have been a pleasure to work with, and I heartily thank them for their encouragement and support with this book! Thank you, Diane, for giving me this opportunity to consolidate information in a manner that I hope will promote understanding and inspire students to careers in the field of ASD. There is so much more work to be done!

  • Appendix: Addressing CEC'S Standards for Teachers of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities/Autism

    The following table identifies chapters addressing the Knowledge and Standards for Teachers as established by the Council for Exceptional Children's Division of Autism and Developmental Disabilities.

    Chps Standard 1 Foundations
    2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11ICC1K1Models, theories, philosophies, and research methods that form the basis for special education practice
    7ICC1K2Laws, policies, and ethical principles regarding behavior management planning and implementation
    2, 4, 6ICC1K3Relationship of special education to the organization and function of educational agencies
    4, 5, 6ICC1K4Rights and responsibilities of students, parents, teachers, and other professionals, and schools related to exceptional learning needs
    2, 5, 6ICC1K5Issues in definition and identification of individuals with exceptional learning needs, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
    2, 4, 5, 6, 8ICC1K6Issues, assurances and due process rights related to assessment, eligibility, and placement within a continuum of services
    1, 4, 6, 11ICC1K7Family systems and the role of families in the educational process
    1, 4ICC1K8Historical points of view and contribution of culturally diverse groups
    1, 2, 4ICC1K9Impact of the dominant culture on shaping schools and the individuals who study and work in them
    6, 11ICC1K10Potential impact of differences in values, languages, and customs that can exist between the home and school
    2, 5, 6DDA1. K1Definitions and issues related to the identification of individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    2, 6, 8DDA1. K2Continuum of placement and services available for individuals with developmental disabilities/ autism spectrum disorders
    1DDA1.K3Historical foundations and classic studies of developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10DDA1.K4Trends and practices in the field of developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    7DDA1.K5Theories of behavior problems of individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    8, 9, 10, 11DDA1.K6Perspectives held by individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    10, 11DDA1.K7Concepts of self determination, self-advocacy, community and family support and impact in the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    4ICC1S1Articulate personal philosophy of special education
    Chps Standard 2 Development and Characteristics of Learners

    Chps Standard 3 Individual Learning Differences
    1, 8, 9, 10, 11ICC3K1Effects an exceptional condition(s) can have on an individual's life
    11ICC3K2Impact of learners' academic and social abilities, attitudes, interests, and values on instruction and career development
    4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11ICC3K3Variations in beliefs, traditions, and values across and within cultures and their effects on relationships among individuals with exceptional learning needs, family, and schooling
    4, 6, 9, 10ICC3K4Cultural perspectives influencing the relationships among families, schools, and communities as related to instruction
    4ICC3K5Differing ways of learning of individuals with exceptional learning needs, including those from culturally diverse backgrounds and strategies for addressing these differences
    2DDA3.K1Impact of theory of mind, central coherence, and executive function on learning and behavior
    3DDA3.K2Impact of neurological differences on learning and behavior
    7, 8, 10DDA3.K3Impact of self-regulation on learning and behavior
    Chps Standard 4 Instructional Strategies
    6, 8, 9, 11ICC4K1Evidence-based practices validated for specific characteristics of learners and settings
    6, 7, 8, 9, 10DDA4K1Specialized curriculum designed to meet the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    6, 8, 9, 10ICC4S1Use strategies to facilitate integration into various settings
    8, 10ICC4S2Teach individuals to use self-assessment, problem-solving, and other cognitive strategies to meet their needs
    6, 8, 9, 10ICC4S3Select, adapt, and use instructional strategies and materials according to characteristics of the individual with exceptional learning needs
    6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11ICC4S4Use strategies to facilitate maintenance and generalization of skills across learning environments
    8, 10ICC4S5Use procedures to increase the individual's self-awareness, self-management, self-control, self-reliance, and self-esteem
    6, 8, 9, 10, 11ICC4S6Use strategies that promote successful transitions for individuals with exceptional learning needs
    8DDA4.S1Match levels of support to changing needs of the individual
    8, 9DDA4.S2Implement instructional programs that promote effective communication skills using verbal and augmentative/alternative communication systems for individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    8, 9DDA4.S3Provide specialized instruction for spoken language, reading and writing for individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    6, 7, 8, 9, 10DDA4.S4Use instructional strategies that fall on a continuum of child-directed to adult-directed in natural and structured context
    6, 7, 8, 9, 10DDA4.S5Consistently use of proactive strategies and positive behavioral supports
    4, 11DDA4.S6Involve individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders in the transition planning process
    11DDA4.S7Plan for transition needs including linkages to supports and agencies focusing on life long needs
    Chps Standard 5 Learning Environments/Social Interactions
    6, 8ICC5K1Demands of learning environments
    7ICC5K2Basic classroom management theories and strategies for individuals with exceptional learning needs
    7, 8ICC5K3Effective management of teaching and learning
    4ICC5K4Teacher attitudes and behaviors that influence behavior of individuals with exceptional learning needs
    2, 10ICC5K5Social skills needed for educational and other environments
    6, 7, 10ICC5K6Strategies for crisis prevention and intervention
    4ICC5K7Strategies for preparing individuals to live harmoniously and productively in a culturally diverse world
    4ICC5K8Ways to create learning environments that allow individuals to retain and appreciate their own and each other's respective language and cultural heritage
    4ICC5K9Ways specific cultures are negatively stereotyped
    4ICC5K10Strategies used by diverse populations to cope with a legacy of former and continuing racism
    4, 6, 10ICC5S1Create a safe, equitable, positive, and supportive learning environment in which diversities are valued
    10ICC5S2Identify realistic expectations for personal and social behavior in various settings
    6, 8ICC5S3Identify supports needed for integration into various program placements
    8, 10ICC5S4Design learning environments that encourage active participation in individual and group activities
    7, 8ICC5S5Modify the learning environment to manage behaviors
    5, 6, 7ICC5S6Use performance data and information from all stakeholders to make or suggest modifications in learning environments
    4, 6ICC5S7Establish and maintain rapport with individuals with and without exceptional learning needs
    10ICC5S8Teach self-advocacy
    8, 10ICC5S9Create an environment that encourages self-advocacy and increased independence
    7, 8ICC5S10Use effective and varied behavior management strategies
    7ICC5S11Use the least intensive behavior management strategy consistent with the needs of the individual with exceptional learning needs
    7, 8, 9ICC5S12Design and manage daily routines
    4, 10ICC5S13Organize, develop, and sustain learning environments that support positive intracultural and intercultural experiences
    4, 10ICC5S14Mediate controversial intercultural issues among students within the learning environment in ways that enhance any culture, group, or person
    4ICC5S15Structure, direct, and support the activities of paraeducators, volunteers, and tutors
    4ICC5S16Use universal precautions
    6, 7, 9, 10, 11DDA5.S1Provide instruction in community-based settings
    -DDA5.S2Demonstrate transfer, lifting and positioning techniques
    8DDA5.S3Structure the physical environment to provide optimal learning for individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    8, 10DDA5.S4Provide instruction in self-regulation
    10DDA5.S5Utilize student strengths to reinforce and maintain social skills
    Chps Standard 6 Language
    4, 6, 9, 10ICC6K1Effects of cultural and linguistic differences on growth and development
    4, 10ICC6K2Characteristics of one's own culture and use of language and the ways in which these can differ from other cultures and uses of languages
    4ICC6K3Ways of behaving and communicating among cultures that can lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding
    8, 9ICC6K4Augmentative and assistive communication strategies
    8, 9ICC6S1Use strategies to support and enhance communication skills of individuals with exceptional learning needs
    6, 9ICC6S2Use communication strategies and resources to facilitate understanding of subject matter for students whose primary language is not the dominant language
    9, 10DDA6.S1Provide pragmatic language instruction that facilitates social skills
    9, 10DDA6.S2Provide individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders strategies to avoid and repair miscommunications
    Chps Standard 7 Instructional Planning
    6, 8, 9, 10ICC7K1Theories and research that form the basis of curriculum development and instructional practice
    8, 9, 10ICC7K2Scope and sequences of general and special curricula
    6, 8, 9, 10ICC7K3National, state or provincial, and local curricula standards
    7, 8, 9ICC7K4Technology for planning and managing the teaching and learning environment
    4ICC7K5Roles and responsibilities of the paraeducator related to instruction, intervention, and direct service
    11DDA7.K1Evidence-based career/vocational transition programs for individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    8, 9, 10ICC7S1Identify and prioritize areas of the general curriculum and accommodations for individuals with exceptional learning needs
    4, 5, 6, 9, 10ICC7S2Develop and implement comprehensive, longitudinal individualized programs in collaboration with team members
    4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11ICC7S3Involve the individual and family in setting instructional goals and monitoring progress
    7ICC7S4Use functional assessments to develop intervention plans
    7, 9ICC7S5Use task analysis
    9, 10ICC7S6Sequence, implement, and evaluate individualized learning objectives
    8, 9, 10ICC7S7Integrate affective, social, and life skills with academic curricula
    4, 6ICC7S8Develop and select instructional content, resources, and strategies that respond to cultural, linguistic, and gender differences
    8, 9ICC7S9Incorporate and implement instructional and assistive technology into the educational program
    -ICC7S10Prepare lesson plans
    8, 9, 10ICC7S11Prepare and organize materials to implement daily lesson plans
    8ICC7S12Use instructional time effectively
    7, 9, 10ICC7S13Make responsive adjustments to instruction based on continual observations
    10ICC7S14Prepare individuals to exhibit self-enhancing behavior in response to societal attitudes and actions
    6, 7, 9, 10ICC7S15Evaluate and modify instructional practices in response to ongoing assessment data
    7, 8, 9, 10, 11DDA7.S1Plan instruction for independent functional life skills and adaptive behavior
    6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11DDA7.S2Plan and implement instruction and related services for individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders that is both age-appropriate and ability-appropriate
    8, 9DDA7.S3Use specialized instruction to enhance social participation across environments
    7, 9, 10DDA7.S4Plan systematic instruction based on learner characteristics, interests, and ongoing assessment
    Chps Standard 8 Assessment
    5, 6Basic terminology used in assessment
    5, 6Legal provisions and ethical principles regarding assessment of individuals
    2, 5, 6Screening, prereferral, referral, and classification procedures
    5, 9, 10Use and limitations of assessment instruments
    5National, state or provincial, and local accommodations and modifications
    5Specialized terminology used in the assessment of individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    5, 7Assessments of environmental conditions that promote maximum performance of individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    5, 9, 10Components of assessment for the core areas for individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    5Individual strengths, skills and learning styles
    4, 5, 6, 9, 10ICC8S1Gather relevant background information
    5ICC8S2Administer nonbiased formal and informal assessments
    5ICC8S3Use technology to conduct assessments
    5ICC8S4Develop or modify individualized assessment strategies
    5, 9ICC8S5Interpret information from formal and informal assessments
    5, 6ICC8S6Use assessment information in making eligibility, program, and placement decisions for individuals with exceptional learning needs, including those from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds
    5, 6ICC8S7Report assessment results to all stakeholders using effective communication skills
    5, 6, 7, 9, 10ICC8S8Evaluate instruction and monitor progress of individuals with exceptional learning needs
    5, 6, 9, 10ICC8S9Create and maintain records
    5, 9, 10DDA8.S1Select, adapt and use assessment tools and methods to accommodate the abilities and needs of individuals with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    7, 9DDA8.S2Develop strategies for monitoring and analyzing challenging behavior and its communicative intent
    7DDA8.S3Conduct functional behavior assessments that lead to development of behavior support plans
    Chps Standard 9 Professional and Ethical Practice
    2, 3, 4ICC9K1Personal cultural biases and differences that affect one's teaching
    4ICC9K2Importance of the teacher serving as a model for individuals with exceptional learning needs
    2, 4ICC9K3Continuum of lifelong professional development
    6, 9, 10ICC9K4Methods to remain current regarding research-validated practice
    6, 8, 9, 10ICC9S1Practice within the CEC Code of Ethics and other standards of the profession
    4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10ICC9S2Uphold high standards of competence and integrity and exercise sound judgment in the practice of the professional
    4, 5, 6ICC9S3Act ethically in advocating for appropriate services
    4, 5, 6ICC9S4Conduct professional activities in compliance with applicable laws and policies
    4ICC9S5Demonstrate commitment to developing the highest education and quality-of-life potential of individuals with exceptional learning needs
    4ICC9S6Demonstrate sensitivity for the culture, language, religion, gender, disability, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation of individuals
    4ICC9S7Practice within one's skill limits and obtain assistance as needed
    4, 6ICC9S8Use verbal, nonverbal, and written language effectively
    4ICC9S9Conduct self-evaluation of instruction
    2, 3, 4ICC9S10Access information on exceptionalities
    1, 2, 4ICC9S11Reflect on one's practice to improve instruction and guide professional growth
    1, 4ICC9S12Engage in professional activities that benefit individuals with exceptional learning needs, their families, and one's colleagues
    6, 8, 9, 10ICC9S13Demonstrate commitment to engage in evidence-based practices
    Chps Standard 10 Collaboration
    4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11ICC10K1Models and strategies of consultation and collaboration
    4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11ICC10K2Roles of individuals with exceptional learning needs, families, and school and community personnel in planning of an individualized program
    1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 11ICC10K3Concerns of families of individuals with exceptional learning needs and strategies to help address these concerns
    4ICC10K4Culturally responsive factors that promote effective communication and collaboration with individuals with exceptional learning needs, families, school personnel, and community members
    2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11DDA10.K1Services, networks, and organizations for individuals, professionals, and families with developmental disabilities/autism spectrum disorders
    2, 4ICC10S1Maintain confidential communication about individuals with exceptional learning needs
    5ICC10S2Collaborate with families and others in assessment of individuals with exceptional learning needs
    4ICC10S3Foster respectful and beneficial relationships between families and professionals
    4, 6ICC10S4Assist individuals with exceptional learning needs and their families in becoming active participants in the educational team
    4, 6ICC10S5Plan and conduct collaborative conferences with individuals with exceptional learning needs and their families
    8, 9, 10, 11ICC10S6Collaborate with school personnel and community members in integrating individuals with exceptional learning needs into various settings
    4ICC10S7Use group problem-solving skills to develop, implement, and evaluate collaborative activities
    4ICC10S8Model techniques and coach others in the use of instructional methods and accommodations
    4, 6ICC10S9Communicate with school personnel about the characteristics and needs of individuals with exceptional learning needs
    4, 6, 9, 10ICC10S10Communicate effectively with families of individuals with exceptional learning needs from diverse backgrounds
    4ICC10S11Observe, evaluate, and provide feedback to paraeducators
    11DDA10S1Collaborate with team members to plan transition to adulthood that encourages full community participation


    0–3 Infant Diagnostic Classification System:

    Published by the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families; addresses the need for a classification system integrating developmental issues of infants and children ages 0 to 3.


    Providing specialized support for individuals with special needs often within regular education settings.

    The Ages and Stages Questionnaire, Second Edition:

    A structured questionnaire that elicits information from caregivers about language, personal-social, fine and gross motor, and cognitive development.

    Alternative and augmentative communication:

    Types of communication supports to help individuals with ASD communicate, such as visual symbols, sign language, and specialized computers that provide a voice corresponding with visual icons.

    Ambiguous loss:

    A sense of loss marked by much uncertainty. For instance, parents with a child diagnosed with ASD may not understand the cause of the disorder, nor the long-term prognosis.


    An almond-shaped collection of nuclei located beneath the temporal lobe; part of the limbic system, which is associated with motivation and emotion, and is particularly involved in emotional responses of fear and aggression.

    Antecedents package:

    Interventions that include strategies for manipulating and modifying events that occur prior to the target behavior.

    Authentic caring:

    Actions and behaviors that parents identified as genuine, voluntary, child focused, and benefitting children or the parents themselves.

    Autism Comorbidity Interview-Present and Lifetime Version:

    A semistructured interview for caregivers of children with ASD. The ACI-PL distinguishes core features of autism from psychiatric disorders such as mood and anxiety disorders.

    Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised:

    A semistructured interview designed to provide information contributing to a diagnosis of ASD for children and adults. Based on the diagnostic criteria of the DSM-IV-TR and ICD-10, the ADI-R includes a series of structured questions in three primary areas: reciprocal social interaction, communication and language, and restricted/stereotyped and repetitive interests and behavior.

    The Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale (ADOS):

    A standardized assessment tools that include parent/caregiver interviews and an interactive assessment procedure that provides a context for assessing characteristics of ASD.

    Autism Genome Project:

    Scientists from 19 countries investigating genes and gene variants contributing to the expression of ASD.

    The Autism Observational Scale for Infants:

    Developed to monitor and screen for ASD in high-risk infants (6–18 months), such as those with siblings with ASD, by assessing developmental characteristics such as visual orienting and tracking, imitation, and sensory-motor development.

    Autistic regression:

    Typical development followed by loss of skills such as communication and social development before age 3.

    Aversive punishments:

    Typically involves pain such as spanking or shocks following an undesirable behavior.

    Behavioral packages:

    A package of interventions that focus on increasing appropriate behaviors through reinforcement and decreasing inappropriate behaviors using principles of operant conditioning.


    The paradigm that considers psychology the science of changing behaviors through objective methods; term coined by John Watson in his classic paper Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It.

    Bioecological theory:

    Offers insight into developing special education interventions and strengthening the home–school partnership.

    Candida yeast:

    Yeastlike fungus, in children with ASD, which may be related to immune system difficulties and possibly associated with exposure to antibiotics, viruses, or other environmental toxins.


    The structure at the base of the brain that is part of the hindbrain. Associated with the vestibular system and coordinates movement, balance, and equilibrium and associated with cognitive processes such as certain types of learning and memory and even emotional function.


    A technique used to teach specific skills that together allow a child to engage in a complex social interaction, such as ordering at a restaurant, playing a game, and inviting a peer to play.


    Has been used to treat individuals in cases of severe lead poisoning, introduces molecules that bond to specific metals in the body.

    Childhood Autism Rating Scale, Second Edition:

    An interview with caregivers and teachers appropriate for children ages 2 and older. Provides ratings of mild autism, moderate autism, severe autism, or nonautism.


    Describes the impact of sociohistorical changes over time.

    Circle of Friends:

    An example of peer-mediated intervention; a promising intervention for children with ASD to build skills such as increasing social initiation, reducing anxiety during social interactions, and increasing social reciprocity.

    Cognitive psychology:

    Matter of mind and thought, and the scientific method of investigation championed by the behaviorism and the natural sciences.

    Collaborative support:

    Support by a trained educator (such as a special education teacher or paraprofessional) is provided to a child with special needs for some portion of the school day, often with the regular education classroom.

    Collateral skills:

    The most relevant social skills goals indirectly support a child's academic functioning by reducing anxiety and providing emotional support.

    Comic strip conversations:

    Technique using cartooning to teach social skills to children with ASD.

    Community living arrangements:

    Living arrangement in which support staff provides 24/7 assistance with home and community supports.


    Diagnosis of two or more clinical disorders.

    Competitive employment:

    Refers to engagement in meaningful paid employment with limited supports.

    Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM):

    Interventions that have limited supporting empirical research.

    Comprehensive behavioral treatment for young children:

    Utilizes ABA and often focuses on early intervention.

    Consultative support:

    Special education monitors progress of child and consults with regular education teacher to provide individualized support for the child.


    A teaching relationship where often a special educator and a regular education teacher collaborate to serve the needs of children in the classroom, or specific children with special needs (often both).

    Cultural reciprocity:

    Involves developing collaborative relationships by respecting and striving to understand differences in perspectives and values, contributes to cultural sensitive services.


    Study of chromosomes.

    Degree of spontaneity:

    Whether the child initiates communication if communication is primarily prompted by others.

    Delayed echolalia:

    The repetition of all or part of an utterance after a delay.

    Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based Model (Floor Time):

    A play-based intervention in which the caregiver interacts with the child to develop trust, intimacy, and engage in reciprocal interaction.

    Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM):

    Most widely used classification system within the United States for diagnosing autism and other developmental disorders. Published by the American Psychiatric Association.

    Differential reinforcement of other behavior:

    Procedure involving providing a child with reinforcement for the absence of self-injurious behavior.

    Discourse management:

    Involves skills such as staying on topic, conversational turn taking, and repairing conversational breakdowns.

    Discrete Trial Instruction (DTI):

    Uses learning trials that are individually developed to address a particular learning goal.

    Discrete trial instruction:

    Approach built around educational trials that always contain a prompt from the teacher, a response by the child, and a consequence delivered by the teacher.


    How long the behavior occurs.

    Early Start Denver Model:

    An individualized curriculum using a combination of instructional techniques based on behavioral, developmental, and relationship theories.


    Automatically repeating vocalizations made by another.

    Ecological validity:

    Measuring real-life functioning.


    A child running away from adults, which can be as minor as running across the room and as major as running out of the building.

    Emerging intervention:

    Uses practices with some limited support.


    Refers to heritable changes in the expression of genes (the cellular phenotype) that are not caused by changes of the underlying DNA. Epi refers to the outer structures (rather than underlying structures) of the cell.

    Errorless learning:

    Uses prompts that are gradually faded to provide the child with a learning experience with minimal frustration.

    Established intervention:

    When using evidence-based practices, has strong empirical support for treatment validity.

    Evaluation of Sensory Processing:

    An instrument designed to assess sensory processing across all sensory domains in children ages 2 to 12.

    Evidence-based practices:

    Interventions supported by empirical research. Ratings such as established, emerging, and unestablished help guide teachers, parents, and other professionals in choosing interventions for children with ASD.

    Executive functioning:

    Associated with the prefrontal cortex of the brain; used to describe many higher-level skills that are necessary for learning and being successful in school.


    A social setting not immediately impacting the child but influencing relationships.

    Expressive language:

    The ability to express one's thoughts with language.

    Extinction burst:

    Situation when using extinction in which the behavior gets worse before it gets better.

    Family systems theory:

    A branch of psychotherapy that addresses issues associated with intimate relationships in the context of families and the systems that underlie those relationships.

    Family-centered approach:

    The cornerstone of early intervention efforts, the strengths and priorities of the family are equally important as the recommendations provided by professionals.

    FISH analysis (fluorescence in situ hybridization):

    Fluorescent probe targets a DNA-specific region to detect if there is a deletion.

    Form (communication style):

    Considers how the child attempts to communicate.

    Fragile X syndrome:

    Most common genetic condition known to be associated with ASD; name of disorder is due to a fragile-looking extra piece of material that hangs from the X chromosome.

    Frequency of communication:

    Involves an analysis of how often communication occurs.


    How often a behavior occurs in a specific time period.

    Functional behavioral assessment:

    Technique developed by behavior analysts that focuses on determining why a problem behavior is occurring.

    Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI):

    Measures change of blood flow associated with a region of the brain.

    Functional play:

    Play involving interacting with an object in the manner in which it is intended.

    G-banded chromosomal analysis:

    Identifying relatively large pieces of genetic material that have been deleted or added to the chromosome.

    Hans Asperger:

    Austrian pediatrician described children in 1944, today considered to have high-functioning autism, in his paper Autistic Psychopathology in Children. Later the diagnosis “Asperger syndrome or disorder” was named to describe this condition.

    Heterogeneous disorder:

    Involving many different etiologies.

    Hidden curriculum:

    The implicit rules students need to know to be successful with teachers and peers. Often learn informally from context and observation. Children with ASD may need such “rules” explicitly presented.

    Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008:

    Provides further support for people with ASD and other developmental disabilities.

    Human Genome Project:

    A 13-year endeavor to map out the entire sequence of human chromosomes.

    Humanistic psychology:

    A psychological perspective that addresses aspects of the person as a whole in an effort to facilitate a personally meaningful and enriched existence.


    Development of reading skills more quickly or more advanced than same-age peers.


    Overly sensitive to certain sounds, type of physical contact, or textures.


    Appears less responsive to stimuli than peers, including pain.

    Immediate echolalia:

    The repetition of all or part of an utterance that has just been spoken.

    Incidental teaching:

    A type of DTI that increases the generalizability of the learned skill by teaching during daily activities with highly motivating materials.

    Incidental teaching:

    A type of DTI that takes advantage of a child's interests to guide instruction.

    Individualized Education Plan (IEP):

    Describes individualized educational goals for the school-aged child ages 3 to 21, with focus on the child within the context of the educational setting.

    Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP):

    Created based on family and child needs and includes ongoing assessment of the family's priorities, expectations, goals, concerns, and their measurement of progress, as well as the child's developmental level.

    Individualized transition plan:

    The written identification of a student's preferences for their lives after public school, including employment or further education, leisure and recreation, social/interpersonal, and residential.

    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):

    Mandates parent involvement in every phase of the special education process, including pre-referral, assessment, creating the educational plan, and monitoring progress.

    Interactive sampling:

    Involves collecting data about communication behavior within interactive settings.

    International Classification of Diseases (ICD):

    Classification system; published by the World Health Organization, closely aligns with the DSM and is used by the medical professional in Europe and many other countries.

    Intervention fidelity:

    The valid implementation of interventions.

    Job coach:

    Sometimes referred to as an employment specialist or consultant, this individual helps identify a job that fits the individual's interests and skills, provides supports for initial employment, and gradually reduces the coaching role as the individual adjusts to the job setting.

    Joint attention intervention:

    Teaches the subskills needed to learn the skill of maintaining joint attention with others.

    Joint attention:

    Coordinated by the infant and is the basis of engaging in shared experiences involving behaviors such as gazing and pointing.

    Joint attention:

    Joining in the gaze or focus on something with another individual; may use pointing, gesturing, or eye gaze.

    Leo Kanner:

    An American psychiatrist who described a disorder he called “Early Infantile Autism” as distinctly different from schizophrenia in his 1943 paper Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact.


    How much time it takes for the behavior to occur after a stimulus is presented.

    Leaky gut theory:

    Theory that some children with ASD experience severe inflammation in the gut membrane, causing irregular metabolic pathways.

    Least restrictive environment (LRE):

    A learning environment that allows optimal interaction with same-age typically developing peers.

    Ivar O. Lovaas:

    Used the principle of chaining simple skills together to create interventions that addressed more complex skills.


    An institution or aspect of the greater culture that influences the microsystem.


    In ABA, a mand is a request for something the child wants. After communicating with a mand, the child is reinforced by receiving what they requested. Manding is considered a natural way for teaching spontaneous speech.

    Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine:

    Vaccination to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella given at approximately 1 year of age, and a second shot given at about 4 years of age. A great deal of controversy surrounds the association of MMR to autism, with leading research and medical establishments asserting no association between the two.


    A relationship between microsystems (school and family).


    Involves day-to-day interactions.

    Modeling interventions:

    Individuals are encouraged to repeat target behaviors modeled by adults or peers.

    Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT):

    A popular screening tool for detecting characteristics of autism in infants and toddlers 16 to 30 months of age.

    Monarch program:

    An inclusion program to transition children to elementary school inclusive experiences.


    Utilizing the smallest unit of meaning for a word.

    Multiplex families:

    Refers to families with at least two siblings diagnosed with ASD.

    Multisystem developmental disorder:

    Found under the category of Disorders of Relating and Communicating, can diagnose children under the age of 3; associated with delays in language, social development, motor planning, and sensory processing.

    The National Standards Report:

    Produced by the National Autism Center in 2009, provides a guide to the most current evidence-based interventions for ASD.

    Naturalistic teaching strategies:

    Interacting with a student to teach content in a natural setting such as the playground.


    Expands the behaviorist perspective, resulting in an explosion of research and later application to a wide range of clinical and educational interventions.


    Individuals experiencing normal development for their chronological age.


    Having no identifiable medical disorder associated with ASD; idiopathic.

    Occupational therapist:

    May conduct assessments of fine motor skills and sensory integration functioning.

    Operant behavior:

    Behavior shaped by its consequences.


    The tendency to overgeneralize and use a word to refer to many different things.

    Peer-mediated intervention:

    Involves identifying and training peers as mentors to initiate and respond to their peers with ASD.

    Peer-training packages:

    A package of interventions that involve having students with ASD interact with their typically developing peers who have undergone training, often to enhance social skills.

    Person-centered planning:

    An approach to determining and setting goals that focuses on the hopes, dreams, and desires of the individual and his or her family.


    Expression of the disorder; observational traits.


    Pronunciation and articulation of the sounds in words.

    Pivotal response teaching:

    Approach that focuses on teaching children important skills that will exponentially improve their ability to learn and interact with others.

    Pivotal response training (PRT):

    A type of DTI that utilizes incidental teaching; PRT teaches responses to multiple cues increasing the likelihood that the learned skill with be generalized to multiple settings.


    The social convention of language in which the verbal and nonverbal language is used appropriately.


    Anything that offers additional support to the child during the intervention.


    Used to provide support to the child during learning, ensuring success.

    Protodeclarative pointing:

    Using the index finger to identify something of interest.


    Undermines the scientific process and often is rooted in ulterior motives such as personal gain; falsely purports to be based on scientific principles.


    A complex theory based on the belief that unconscious forces impact a significant degree of human behavior and that personality development is most significantly impacted by early parenting practices.

    Psychoeducational Profile, Third Edition (PEP-3):

    Assesses developmental skills in children 6 months to 7 years with ASD.


    How often a behavior occurs per unit of time (i.e., rate per hour).

    Receptive language:

    Understanding language.


    Reinforcing consequences; increases the future probability that the behavior that came before the consequence will be repeated again sometime in the future.

    Relationship Development Intervention (RDI):

    A parent-based, cognitive-developmental intervention approach.

    Respite care:

    A short-term child care service.

    Response blocking:

    A form of extinction that involved not allowing the child to complete the self-injurious behavior, thus removing the consequence.

    Response to Intervention (RTI):

    Used to provide educational support within general education before considering special education services.

    Retrospective studies:

    Analysis of data about past behavior to explain current behavior.

    Bernard Rimland:

    A research psychologist and father of a son with autism; published Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior. The book presented a convincing rationale asserting that autism was a cognitive disorder with neurobiological origins.


    Atypical antipsychotic medication that is sometimes prescribed to reduce aggressive, self-injurious, or excessively repetitive behaviors.


    Supporting learning by offering reduced support as the child gets closer to mastery.


    Use of a series of pictures, words, or a photograph to communicate a task's requirements.

    School psychologist:

    Generally writes a psychoeducational report based on a battery of tests and interviews. Often skilled in developing and assessing IEP goals. Often part of the multidisciplinary team in an educational setting.


    Gastrointestinal hormone used to diagnose digestive difficulties.

    Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act:

    Federal laws that protect rights of individuals with disabilities in the United States.

    Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs):

    Abnormal levels of serotonin appear implicated in ASD; SSRIs seem to prevent certain nerve cells in the brain from reabsorbing serotonin, which is associated with elevated mood.


    Refers to making meaningful decisions about one's life based on an understanding of one's self and real-world experiences, and without undue influences or interferences. Self-determination is also understood to be the ability to make choices about one's life. It is considered a fundamental human right and is formally recognized on a federal and international level.


    Skills enabling an individual to monitor their own behavior and promote independence.


    The content of language, including the use of vocabulary to express meaning.

    Sensory integration therapy:

    Designed to help the child organize sensory stimuli by exposure to increased and reduced levels of sensory stimuli.

    Sensory integration therapy:

    Therapy that targets sensory issues, often used in occupational therapy and within educational settings.

    Service dogs:

    The use of pet therapy, specifically dogs, provides individuals with ASD the opportunity to experience pleasure in having a relationship with a pet and learning to care for their pet.


    Behaviors can be shaped using reinforcement to reward approximations of target behavior.


    Using reinforcement to reward approximations of target behaviors.

    Sib shops:

    Provides a forum for siblings of children with disabilities to connect with their peers and discuss meaningful topics such as feeling embarrassed by a sibling's behaviors and concerns about their sibling's long-term care needs.

    Skill acquisition deficits:

    Absence of a skill, has not learned the skill.

    Skill performance deficits:

    Difficulties performing a particular skill.

    B. F. Skinner:

    Developed the theory of operant conditioning based on research with animals on which the many variants of ABA are based.

    Social cognition:

    Refers to the way in which individuals perceive, process, and understand social information.

    Social Communication Emotional Regulation Transactional Supports (SCERTS):

    Addresses the development of social communication skills such as joint attention, symbolic behavior, sharing emotions, and expressing emotions.

    Social Communication Questionnaire:

    A screening tool for children ages 4 and older based on items from the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) addressing social communication skills such as expressing empathy and peer relationships.

    Social Communication/Emotional Regulation/Transactional Supports:

    A family-centered educational approach that systematically identifies the child's needs, determines supports that are meaningful and purposeful, and monitors progress.

    Social competence:

    Describes the ability to interact with others in an appropriate manner based on age and context.

    Social referencing:

    Referring to others to gather information about events.

    Social stories:

    A visual technique using a story format for teaching children with autism how to read the intricacies of the social environment.

    Social story:

    Provides a brief story with specific information about a particular social experience using text, pictures, or both.

    Social validity:

    Social importance.

    Social-emotional reciprocity:

    The give-and-take of social interactions.

    Socio-dramatic play:

    Imaginary play involving role-playing such as playing school.

    Spectrum disorder:

    Individuals with ASD express a diverse range of functioning on each of the core deficits; a continuum or spectrum reflects the wide range of strengths and weaknesses within the population.

    Speech-generating device:

    Communication technology that provides an understandable message through preset phrases typically used in conversation.

    Speech-language pathologist:

    Specialized in conducting thorough evaluations of difficulties with communication and voice, and provide therapy to address a variety of disorders related to communication deficits for individuals with ASD.


    Behaviors such as hand or finger flapping, body rocking, and other stereotyped motor mannerisms; sometimes called self-stimulatory behaviors.

    Stimulus generalization:

    Occurs when a behavior is learned in one setting, and then is demonstrated, without further training, by the same individual, in a different setting.

    Story-based intervention package:

    Using individualized stories to explain a series of behaviors needed to be successful in a specific event, and provide a framework of what to expect during the event. Often uses pictures or text to visually present this information.

    Supportive employment:

    For individuals who require some degree of support while employed, supportive employment helps individuals with ASD work within their community. Many individuals with ASD benefit from on-the-job supports, which allow them to participate in meaningful and sometimes paid employment.

    Supportive living:

    With use of appropriate supports, supportive living is living outside of one's family's home and within the community.

    Symbolic play:

    Substituting one object for another during play. For instance, pretending that a brush is a microphone.


    Having an identifiable medical disorder.


    The rules of how language is put together.

    Theory of mind (TOM):

    One's theory about the mental state of someone else.

    Theory of Mind:

    The understanding that others bring a unique perspective to problem-solving situations based on their experiences and knowledge.

    Thinning the schedule of reinforcement:

    As the child continues to learn and engage in more appropriate behavior he or she will gradually need less and less of the reinforcement to engage in the desired behavior.

    Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication-Handicapped Children (TEACCH):

    Program developed by Eric Schopler that blends behavioral components firmly rooted in ABA with cognitive components, integrated alongside a multitiered education program designed to empower parents and teachers to create environments that allow children with autism to grow and develop throughout the life span. Also emphasizes a visual approach to learning and communication.

    Triad of core deficits:

    Significant deficits as compared with same-age peers in three core areas: socialization, communication (both verbal and nonverbal), and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviors and interests.

    Tuberous sclerosis:

    The most frequently occurring genetic disorder caused by a single gene associated with ASD; causes benign tumors to grow throughout the body, including within the brain, and is associated with a variety of physical and cognitive difficulties, including seizures, developmental delays, and ASD in many individuals with the disorder.


    Involves limiting a word to refer to only one particular person, place, or thing.

    Unestablished practices:

    Have virtually no empirical support.

    Vestibular input:

    Activities such as swinging that can provide sensory stimulation to the vestibular system. May have a calming effect in children with ASD. Sensory input associated with movement and balance.

    Video modeling:

    An intervention using video of a social behavior to model an appropriate social skill.

    Video self-modeling:

    A type of video modeling in which the child, the target of the intervention, is filmed exhibiting the prosocial behavior.

    Vocational rehabilitation:

    The opportunity for individuals with ASD to participate in the employment benefits that are available to non-ASD peers. In addition to financial benefits, employment offers social opportunities, promotes personal dignity that is associated with a high quality of life and may enhance cognitive skills.

    Voice output communication aid (VOCA):

    Assistive technology that supports communication.

    Vygotsky's social-cultural theory:

    Considers the impact of culture on learning and overall development.

    Weak central coherence theory (or central coherence theory):

    Describes a trend of many individuals with ASD of demonstrating strengths in recognizing details, but more difficulty seeing the whole or “big picture.”

    Weak central coherence:

    A theory explaining a deficit found in many individuals with ASD involving an overfocus on extraneous details at the expense of understanding the big picture.

    Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Fourth Edition:

    One of the most widely used tests to assess cognitive ability in children. Provides a full-scale score along with four Index Scores, including Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual Reasoning, Working Memory, and Processing Speed.

    Whole gene microarray:

    Identification of even smaller details of DNA segments.

    Zone of proximal development (ZPD):

    Captures a point at which the child can almost master a skill alone but still requires some support.

    About the Authors

    Dr. Michelle Haney is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia. She also teaches in the Education and Graduate Education Departments at Berry College. Dr. Haney is the Director of the Berry College Psychology Lab and coordinates the George Scholar program, an endowed undergraduate research program. Dr. Haney earned her Ph.D. from Georgia State University in School Psychology with a cognate in developmental learning disorders. She earned her Master's and Educational Specialist degrees at the University of Georgia, also in School Psychology. Her undergraduate degree is from Oglethorpe University with a major in Psychology and a minor in Biology. Dr. Haney spent a decade working in the public school system as a school psychologist and specialized in working with children on the Autism Spectrum, their teachers, and their families. Currently, Dr. Haney enjoys mentoring undergraduate students interested in conducting research in ASD and working in careers supporting children with ASD and their families. In addition, Dr. Haney is a representative for the Georgia Human Rights Council of Developmental Disabilities, an advisory review board for the state of Georgia. Her professional and research interests include collaborating with and supporting families of children with developmental disabilities, gender differences in ASD, postsecondary education for individuals with developmental disabilities, and supporting self-determination in people with ASD and other developmental disabilities.

    Contributing Author

    Dr. Cynthia Golden is a psychologist and the principal of an educational and therapeutic program serving students with severe emotional and behavioral needs and autism. She has served as special education supervisor in the public school system, supervising the county autism and emotional/behavioral disorders programs. Dr. Golden has an undergraduate degree in Special Education from the University of West Florida; Master's and Educational Specialist degrees in School Psychology from Georgia State University; a certificate in Educational Leadership; and an Educational Specialist degree and an Educational Doctorate in Inclusive Education from Kennesaw State University. She has most recently published The Special Educator's Toolkit: Everything You Need to Organize, Manage, and Monitor Your Classroom (Brookes, 2012).

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