In order to work effectively with children and adults with ASD, the National Autistic Society developed an evidence-based framework called SPELL. This framework enables professionals and support workers to understand and respond (by planning intervention programmes) to individual needs of people with ASD.
SPELL – Structure, Positive (approaches and expectations), Empathy, Low Arousal, Links
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By introducing structure, the environment is modified in ways that are easily predictable i.e. the individual is aware of what is expected from them and what will happen next. Visual timetables and other visual prompts utilise the strengths of individuals with ASD as they are mostly visual learners. Offering choice boards during unstructured times (play time and lunch time) in school also helps in providing structure. Similarly, communication can also be structured by calling the child’s name, gaining their attention before offering instructions and giving them adequate time to process and respond to the instructions.
Positive (approaches and expectations)
In order to explore the potential of individuals with ASD, it is very important to plan intervention programmes that are based on careful assessments, which in turn determine realistically high expectations. Positive feedback (reward strategies) and motivators can be used to ensure that appropriate behaviours are continued.
Consistent behaviour support plans must be put into place while dealing with challenging behaviours. Identifying individual strengths and building on them is the key to success in intervention.
Seeing the world through the eyes of individuals with ASD is the most important aspect of working with them. To gather a better insight into their world, it is essential to understand their experiences by viewing things from their perspective. Some individuals who are non-verbal have a lot to say through their behaviour, hence effective support workers/professionals must be endowed with personal attributes of calmness, sensitivity, positive regard and an analytical disposition.
To aid concentration and reduce anxiety, the environment must be calm and well-ordered. There should be no distractions. Some individuals with auditory processing difficulties may require additional time to process information. We may need to pay attention to aversive or distracting stimuli for e.g. noise levels, colour schemes, odours, lighting, clutter etc. Care should be taken not to overload or bombard individuals, which can be made possible by giving clear information that is best suited to them.
Low arousal does not mean ‘no’ arousal. Individuals must be exposed to a range of experiences but this should be done in a sensitive way considering the fact that they could be oversensitive to certain stimuli.
Strong links most be established between everybody involved in the intervention programme including parents, support workers, teachers and other professionals to ensure that the individual’s needs are addressed from a holistic perspective. The individuals with ASD and their parents are very much seen as partners in the therapeutic process. These links enable them to participate in the wider community in a far more meaningful way.
The SPELL framework can be applied across all individuals with ASD and can also be used as a complementary approach to other methods of intervention.