Educating Children with Autism, Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism, edited by Catherine Lord and James P. McGee. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council, Washington D.C. National Academy Press, 2001, 307 pp., $39.95 (hard cover), $27 (PDF book), $43.50 (both), PDF chapters $2.90 each.
In the last years, childhood autism has captured the interest and concerns of clinicians and researchers. Since the description by Kanner in 1943, autism has perplexed parents, physicians, psychologists, educators, and essentially all those involved in child care. Autism was initially conceived as a psychological disorder. It has come to be recognized, however, as a developmental disorder of neurologic origin that is expressed in a broad spectrum of disturbed behaviors and cognitive, medical, and interactional challenges. The core characteristics of autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) include deficits in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and restricted patterns of interests and behaviors.
Although autism is felt to be a neurologic disorder, the etiology for this spectrum disorder remains obscure. Moreover, what might be the best interventions also remains obscure or at least controversial. As is frequently noted, there are different bodies of literature relevant to ASD. One body addresses neurological, behavioral, and developmental characteristics of ASD. Another literature addresses diagnostic practices and prevalence while another deals with treatment programs and outcomes. Finally, there is a body of literature that addresses individual, instructional, or intervention approaches to children with ASD. However, as is repeatedly noted in this volume and elsewhere, communication between these literatures remains limited. Consequently, thoughtful and informed synthesis of information and collaboration among disciplines is sparce.
The volume under review addresses the gargantuan topic of educating children with autism. It is a report to the US Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs and the National Research Council, from the Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism. The committee was charged by these agencies "to integrate, the scientific, theoretical and policy literature and create a framework for evaluating the scientific evidence concerning the effects and features of educational interventions for young children with autism". The report is edited by Catherine Lord and James P McGee and is the result of the work of an extraordinarily expert multidisciplinary committee.
The report is divided into three sections, plus an executive summary. The sections include I) Goals for children with autism and their families; II) Characteristics of effective interventions; and III) Policy, legal, and research context. Each section includes individual chapters covering a variety of topics germane to the individual sections. For example, the first section includes a chapter on diagnosis. The second section has, among others, chapters on communication, social development, and cognitive development. The third section has chapters on public policy, personnel development, etc. The chapters are highly focused and state at the outset what will be covered and also what domains in the field of autism will not be covered. The chapters are well thought-out, well referenced, and comprehensive yet not ponderous.
One of the strengths of the book, which is obviously multi-authored, is the consistency of the writing as well as the excellent background discussions and segues into the reviews of the literature and, ultimately, the recommendations. Each chapter has a background section which serves as a preparation for the discussion of the data from which the recommendations are made. For example, in the chapter on development of communication, there is a discussion of the core deficits of communication among children with autism. The chapter on social development has an excellent review of developmental constructs and theory as they pertain to social development among children with ASD. What each chapter does is frame the issue, evaluate the relevant research and than finally draw conclusions and make recommendations. The final chapter serves as an excellent summary and is titled Conclusions and Recommendations.
I would suggest that this is an important book for anyone working in the field of autism, whether or not their particular interest is in education. The book provides a comprehensive review of the literature and does articulate an agenda for research and for clinical practice. It is a welcome addition to the literature addressing ASD and does provide a direction that researchers and clinician should take in order to enhance the education of children with autism.
Edward Goldson, M.D.
University of Colorado