Adapting Methods, Delivery of Instruction,

and Content to Address the Needs of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders


Compiled by Sue Baker,

Autism Services Consultant


The I.E.P. is the heart of special education.

IDEA 97 defines specially designed instruction and the Iowa Administrative Rules of Special Education 2008 have mirrored that definition: 

Adapting as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this chapter, the content, methodology or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability, and to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can beet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children.

This listing does not address the other functions of the IEP as a process for planning nor the outcomes and decisions made through collaborative planning between educational agencies and parents. The latter functions of the IEP might help articulate which of the specific programming needs below is most appropriate and reasonably calculated to confer benefit for the individual. Data collected on child progress should support any solution focused planning decisions regarding initiating one of these components versus another or when emphasizing or revising these components.

Members of the Autism Resource Teams in all the AEA’s in Iowa brainstormed the possible methods, delivery of instruction, and content that might come into play for individuals known to have autism or any of the autism spectrum disorders (including Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Asperger’s Disorder). This listing is not in any particular order. This listing did not differentiate program priorities, which would differ, based on the individual’s age and functioning. Not all of the components listed would apply to an individual at one specific time. These are considerations in the delivery of specialized instructional programs for individuals with the needs as described in the educational description of autism.  Please consult Iowa’s Best Practice Documents in Assessment and Intervention, as well as the Early Childhood Supplement and the Parent Document for children birth to age eight  for further information.


  1. TEACCH methods (Teaching and Educating Autistic Children with Communication Handicaps Program) or components of structured teaching
  2. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) continuum: Discrete Trial Training (DTT) Discrete Trial Format (DTF), Lovaas style Behavioral Therapy, Direct teaching, ABLLS
  3. Compliance Training
  4. Incidental Teaching
  5. Child led type methods
  6. Relationship based Emotional Greeenspan's Floor Time Model
  7. Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
  8. Mileau Training
  9. Phonemic Awareness
  10. Pivotal Response Training
  11. Gentle Teaching


Delivery Options

  1. Repetitions are often necessary

  2. Direct teaching

  3. Individualized "motivation" or reinforcement may need to be added to instruction

  4. Visual approach to schedule to make expectations predictable

              a.  object, picture, line drawing, and/or word schedule options
              b.  first then organization, partial or full day schedule

   5.  Decrease noisy environment

   6.  Recognize behavior communicates and provide new language instruction

   7.  Intensity issues: full day programming for young children

   8. Duration of services needs discussion for each individual

   9.  Program delivery utilizes individual’s strengths

  10. Utilize individual’s special interests

  11. Varied staff providing instruction (across place, person, materials) to generalize information

  12. Focus on use of skills

  13. Ratio of interaction for instruction includes 1:1, small group, larger groups

  14. Pace of instruction can be important

  15. Sensory component- or sensory rewards included in curriculum

  16.  Parent support and involvement in education, visioning, etc.

  17.  Systematic teaching (task analysis, errorless learning, descriptive feedback)

  18. Inclusive programming in regular education with appropriate accommodations/modifications

  19.  Interactive with materials and people

  20.  Short bursts of instruction initially for very young children

  21.  Provide instruction in small space

  22.  Adult redirects behavior

  23.  Creative manipulative materials

  24. Multi-sensory approach

  25. Functional approach to life skills, behavior, and routines

  26. Music therapy or singing instructions/routines

  27. Community interactions

  28. Computer assisted instruction (drill and practice, problem solving, etc.)

  29. Concrete presentation

  30.  Pairing vocabulary down, focusing on important information

  31. Mentoring by peers; social network such as Circle of Friends

  32. Work in pairs or buddy system

  33. Reverse integration opportunities

  34. Sign Language, visual supports or other augmentative communication

  35. Color contrasts for boundaries accentuate important information


  1. Functional orientation to address communication needs
  2. Functional insert tasks or stacking materials training
  3. Purposeful visual end to the tasks
  4. Matching and sorting materials; categorization; as beginning reading training
  5. Leisure/self enjoyment
  6. Social/communication to adults, peers, community needs
  7. Sensory curriculum or communication of sensory needs
  8. Language "specialist" in autism involvement in program planning
  9. Behavior program to increase or decrease skills or behaviors within routines
  10. Transition support Part C to Part B, grade to grade; elementary to middle school/jr. high and school to work
  11. Work experience/job training
  12. Application learning
  13. Generalization activities and routines
  14. Matching to child's interest
  15. Age appropriate content and materials
  16. Relevant and meaningful curriculum
  17. Self determination training (choice making, decision making training, problem solving, goal setting, self management, self-awareness, self-knowledge, etc.
  18. Thinking Skills training