No Single Strategy

Autism spectrum disorder is a “range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior” (Autism Fact Sheet, 2009).The key words here are “range” and “complex.” Because each person is such a mixed bag of strengths and deficits, no single strategy is effective across the board.

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Autism is complex, and requires on-going assessment and monitoring of individual strengths and deficits. We cannot assume, for example, a non-verbal high school student with autism is unable to read or to understand physics. We cannot assume a college graduate and successful professional with autism is toilet-trained.

The Autism Society of America describes the uneven and unpredictable nature of autism by stating “although autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors, children and adults with autism can exhibit any combination of these behaviors in any degree of severity. Two children, both with the same diagnosis, can act completely different from one another and have varying capabilities” (Characteristics of Autism, 2008).

Teachers, parents, therapists, and others interested in the well-being of a person with autism might want to look at a wide variety of options for addressing the unique needs of that individual. We should take into consideration the unique combination of characteristics of each person when developing personalized strategies and interventions, thereby maximizing each person’s potential and impacting their quality of life. Sometimes that involves combining features of various approaches to autism rather than following just one specific program.

Autism Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved October 15, 2010, from

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.-text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

Characteristics of autism. Autism Society of America. Retreived October 15, 2010, from

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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