Nearly 20 years of autism education research and practice at the University of Washington’s Haring Center for Research and Training in Inclusive Education inform the first comprehensive manual to help schools implement high quality, inclusive educational programs for young children.
The DATA Model for Teaching Preschoolers with Autism, to be released Oct. 15 by Brookes Publishing Co., offers teachers, administrators and families specific tools, assessments and procedures to provide children with autism opportunities to interact successfully with typically developing children in an inclusive preschool from the first day of class.
“When teachers have children with autism in their class, they often ask, ‘Where do I start?’” said Dr. Ilene Schwartz, Haring Center Director and Project DATA principal investigator. “This manual gives you a great starting place. We talk about how to include a child with autism in your classroom and how to determine what to teach the child, where to teach the child, and how to teach the child.”
Started in 1997 at the UW College of Education’s Haring Center, Project DATA (Developmentally Appropriate Treatment for Autism) is a continuous study in the best practices for early intensive behavioral intervention for children on the autism spectrum.
As part of the Project DATA framework, an extended-day program supplements a child’s participation in inclusive preschool classrooms with intensive, extended instruction on skills that will help them be most successful in their preschool. Two tenets guide the DATA framework through all planning and instruction:
- Children with autism are children first
- Student failure is instructional failure
“The number of children with autism is increasing,” Schwartz said. “These children need to have the opportunity to engage in the same kind of activities that typically developing children engage in, but they need support in order to learn how to do that.”
Autism diagnoses have increased to a rate of 1 in 68 children, a significant increase from the rate of 1 in 150 children reported in 2000. During that same time period, the Project DATA model has been continuously demonstrated at the Experimental Education Unit (EEU) at the Haring Center, and Haring Center trainers have supported the model’s replication in school districts throughout the country.
The DATA Model for Teaching Preschoolers with Autism is a step-by-step guide to enact the model in any classroom. Regardless of classroom size or makeup, the DATA model’s approach to instruction is based on child progress data, which the manual instructs teachers how to record, analyze and teach to accordingly.
The DATA manual contains a “skills checklist” educators can use to determine what skills need to be taught to help children with autism be as successful as possible, as well as how to include families in planning and instruction of educational goals. Including families in this process is a pivotal component of the Project DATA model. This practice allows for continuity in skill building at home and in the classroom, and also trains parents to use teaching strategies as part of everyday life—a skill that will be invaluable to both parents and their children for their lifetimes.
“I don’t know where we’d be without Project DATA—it’s influenced our whole family,” said Cinthia Portugal, former Project DATA parent of twin boys with autism. “We know how to get their buy-in and to do what we need to as a family. Sometimes we need to motivate them, and we know how to do that in a positive way. We learned that through Project DATA.”
The Project DATA manual also helps educators break down goals developed by educational teams into practical steps, how to provide instruction on these important goals and how to take data to monitor if children are making adequate progress toward meaningful educational outcomes. If that progress isn’t being made, the manual walks educators through the process of modifying their approach to instruction until the desired outcome is achieved.
“Children start to learn to play next to other kids, they start to learn to share with other kids and take turns,” said EEU teacher Erin Greager, who has been teaching in Project DATA for 13 years. “By the time that they leave, they have real, true friendships.”
As part of the manual, a “fidelity checklist” for administrators will guide schools through the process of implementing this program, building on what already exists in their school community.
“We anticipate that Project DATA in Boise will look differently than Project DATA in Missoula,” Schwartz said.
The DATA Model for Teaching Preschoolers with Autism is designed to be the only tool needed for entire schools to adopt inclusive classrooms that successfully meet the educational needs of children with an autism diagnosis.
Ilene Schwartz, Haring Center Director and Professor of Education
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications