Curriculum? Benchmarks? How do you plan ahead when every student and every day is different?

There is a saying; if you know someone with Autism... you know one person with Autism. Plain and simple. Are there common characteristics which can be observed? Of course, otherwise there would be no way to determine the diagnosis. However making any generalized statements about what individuals with Autism need (unless they are extremely broad and/or basic such as: individualized instruction, social skills training, speech and language therapy and/or instruction, etc.) is generally inaccurate and at times could even be called inappropriate.

Here's the thing: if I make a statement such as "students with Autism are great at math because it is very logical, concrete, and the rules are constant," some people would say "Yes, that is my child/student," while lots of other parents and/or teachers would find that to be the opposite for their child/student. We simply cannot make these types of claims as educators and professionals in the field because no two individuals on the spectrum present with the same needs.

Now, to get off my soapbox and back to the topic at hand...

The fact that our students with Autism have more differences than similarities, leaves us as educators with a predicament. How can we establish a curriculum to be used for our classroom, school, or program in general if all of our learners have different skill sets and needs?

Could we create a very basic functional curriculum which would allow us to teach students the skills they absolutely need (e.g., basic functional math, reading, and writing skills, a range of basic to advanced language, communication, and social skills, self help and daily living skills, job readiness skills, etc.)? Well we could try, and yet we would need to find a way to account for how different even those "basic skills" would look for each child, and determine how much or little each skill would be broken down within our set curriculum.

Let's take the skill of brushing your teeth for example. Well, first we need our baseline, determining where we are starting. Some students may refuse to allow a toothbrush or toothpaste in or around their mouth. Some students may consume large quantities of toothpaste. Some students may perform the sequence but do so without applying adequate pressure needed to effectively clean their teeth. Other students may only thoroughly brush some areas within their mouth or brush all areas but for too short a time. Others still may perform the whole sequence, but forget to clean up the materials afterwards and leave toothpaste residue on their mouths. In considering this comprehensive curriculum you are writing, let's select just one of these above listed skills to target and see how it can be broken down.

Tolerates and complies with an adult brushing their teeth.
Within this "skill" here are some of the considerations and possible variations and sub-skills:
  • Remaining seated for 2 minutes (or standing appropriately at the sink/in the bathroom for the same amount of time)
  • Following verbal directions related to brushing teeth (e.g., "Open your mouth," "Spit," "Turn your head,"etc.)
  • Tolerating toothbrush without toothpaste near face/mouth
  • Tolerating toothbrush without toothpaste in mouth
  • Tolerating toothbrush without toothpaste on tooth surface
  • Tolerating brush in mouth with flavored toothpaste (use a shaping procedure for beginning with a small amount and gradually building up to whole length of bristles)
  • Tolerating toothbrush in mouth with any toothpaste 
    • Note: This is not an essential skill, as flavored toothpastes still provide the benefits of oral hygiene. If this skill is worked on, it may be better to do so once the individual is further along and is already brushing his/her own teeth.
  • Tolerating brushing one surface x amount of times or for x seconds
  • Tolerating brushing all surfaces x amount of times or for x seconds
  • Note: these next two sub-skills are optional, the same benefits could be acquired using a mouthwash.
    • Tolerating toothbrush on tongue
    • Tolerating brushing tongue x amount of times
So, there we have it, that is how one skill could be written into your curriculum in a comprehensive manner so it can meet the needs of most of your learners. The problem? It is still only addressing the needs of most but not all learners. It seems an impossible task to develop a truly comprehensive curriculum for individuals with this spectrum disorder, why? Because there is a wide spectrum of needs as well.

So where does this leave us? There are plenty of options and here are a few; you could instruct without a set curriculum and just make individualized educational decisions every step of the way, you could use assessments for each basic skill as a way to develop an individualized curriculum, or you could choose to create a set of curriculum as your guideline allowing for goals to be added or skipped over for each learner as appropriate.

Beginning my own Autism Spectrum Disorders high school program this year, I have been faced with this dilemma, and to be honest, over the last 3 months I've tried each of these options. Ultimately I've decided that writing up a curriculum checklist with as much detail as I can have and creating blank "extension" charts where I can add on additional skills to each instructional area is the best way for me to ensure that I'm taking systematic and logical steps toward long terms goals. It's also the best way for me to stay organized and keep a running record of skill acquisition for each of my learners.

Below are a few samples of the curriculum checklist I have been developing:

Sample page from Functional Math Curriculum

Sample skills from Money Skills section of Functional Math Curriculum

  1. Don't reinvent the wheel. There are lots of wonderful resources, programs, and sets of curriculum out there which you can reference in creating your own!
  2. Try to avoid establishing "levels" of learners and grouping skills based on those levels. Each student progresses in a different manner and with the likely reality of splinter skills, you will still be unable to compare your learners as they may have high/moderate/low level skills in each area. It is often best to just sequence the skills based upon which is a prerequisite for the next skill.
  3. Don't ever be "finished." Like anything else in the field, this should be an ever growing-changing document which you improve as your knowledge base grows.

Have any of you had success writing their own curriculum for teens or adults with Autism? Please share your tips :)

Happy curriculum writing everyone!


  1. Hi, I am your newest follower. I also started a brand new program for students with Autism this fall, but at the middle school level. It has been a challenge and I am still trying to set everything up. Currently, I have just 6 students, all of them wonderful. Plus I lucked out and have some fantastic support in the classroom, too. I would be very interested in your curriculum map, and an hoping you'll put what you have in your store, or share it. I am a scavenger, so if someone has created something useful, i try to snatch it up. There are lots of creative ideas out there and there's no sense in recreating the wheel.
    I also have a blog:, but am so far just a sporadic poster. I am not very techie and I am tired from too many extra hours spent on work :). I am trying to cut back and achieve some balance. Good luck!

    1. Hi Jannike!! Welcome to my blog (sounds like we are VERY much on the same page with our blogs falling to the wayside from time to time... this was a very interesting time for me to decide to start one up!!)
      Glad to hear from you, shoot me an email and I'll see what I can help you with!

  2. Hi,
    I am also a new follower! I am happy that I have found your blog. I am in the process of doing the same, creating a program at the high school level for students with Autism. Even in just reading your first post, I feel a sense of relieve, that i am not alone with how difficult it is to even figure out what to teach and how to do that for each student.
    Thank you for posting :) I also have a blog, only a few posts but please check it out :)

  3. Welcome Victoria!! So glad to hear from you :) Sounds like we are all in a pretty similar boat here! As much as it is a huge challenge to set up a brand new program, I am loving the freedom it is allowing for as well! And though it's a slow and steady pace toward getting things in place the way I want them, I feel such a huge sense of accomplishment with each new project I complete and each time I see what I do have in progress working with one of my kids. Best of luck to you and I'll be sure to check out your blog!


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