There is a small amount of high quality research evidence (eleven controlled trials) and a small amount of low quality research (thirteen single-case design studies with three or more participants) into the use of the TEACCH Autism Program for people on the autism spectrum.
This research suggests that the TEACCH Autism Program may provide a range of benefits to some pre-school and primary school children on the autism spectrum. Those benefits include increased social communication and social interaction, along with improved cognition and improved motor skills.
This research also suggests that the TEACCH Autism Program may reduce stress, and improve the mental wellbeing, of some families of children on the autism spectrum.
There is insufficient evidence to determine if the TEACCH Autism Program provides any benefits in other areas (such as a reduction in repetitive and restricted behaviours, interests and activities) for any children on the autism spectrum.
There is insufficient evidence to determine if the TEACCH Autism Program provides any benefits for adolescents or adults on the autism spectrum.
There is insufficient evidence to determine if any of the four components of structured teaching (physical structure; visual schedules; work systems; and task organisation) by itself provides any benefit for anyone on the autism spectrum.
There have been relatively few research reviews of TEACCH.
Virues-Ortega et al carried out a very useful meta-analysis of TEACCH in 2013. This concluded that TEACCH might provide some benefits to some people on the autism spectrum but that any conclusions should be considered preliminary. However, their analysis was published before the large scale studies by Boyd et al in 2014 and Mandell et al in 2013, so some of their conclusions may no longer be valid. They stated,
“In summary, the present meta-analysis suggests that (a) TEACCH effects over perceptual, motor, verbal and cognitive skills may be of small magnitude; (b) effects over adaptive behavioral repertoires including communication, and activities of daily living may be within the negligible to small range; (c) effects over social behavior and maladaptive behavior may be moderate to large; (d) the evidence base currently available does not allow to identify specific characteristics of the intervention (duration, intensity, and setting) and the target population (developmental age) that could be driving the magnitude of effects; and (e) effects are, in general, replicated across age groups, although the magnitude and consistency of intervention effects are greater among school-age children and adults. Again, it is important to acknowledge that these preliminary conclusions are grounded in very limited data. Namely, only two of the meta-analyzed studies were randomized controlled trials (RCT), all studies had small samples, only one study monitored treatment fidelity, and only two studies conducted blinded assessments. Moreover, several outcomes showed evidence of excessive heterogeneity and potential for publication bias. Therefore, our conclusions should be considered preliminary.”
Howley carried out a very useful narrative review of TEACCH in 2015. She noted three significant gaps in the research evidence.
“First, the focus on measuring observable behaviours results in a clear gap in the evidence in relation to what children are learning and why they are learning what they are learning. Second, social validity of structured teaching components, and in particular, the views of those implementing the approach, are worthy of more in-depth analysis when investigating the research evidence neglects to thoroughly consider an important part of the picture, largely ignoring the impact of the approach upon the inner experiences and well-being of individual learners. Consideration of each of the above would add to the empirical evidence in order to fully understand the ‘bigger picture’.”
There is a need for more research into the TEACCH Autism program which uses scientifically robust, experimental methodologies and which includes a wider range of participants.
That research should investigate whether the TEACCH Autism program is more or less effective than other comprehensive, multi-component, educational interventions (such as the UCLA YAP model and LEAP). It should also investigate which components of the TEACH Autism Program, if any, are more likely to benefit which individuals on the autism spectrum.
That research should be undertaken by researchers who are independent of the interventions being studied. That research should also involve people on the autism spectrum and their parents and carers in the design, development and evaluation of those studies.