The SCERTS Model & Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

The SCERTS Model is a multi-disciplinary approach to supporting children with autism spectrum disorder and those who care for them in educational and community based settings. This lesson reviews the key points of this model.


If you needed to build a house how would you go about it? Well, you could hire a company to build the floor. Then get wall specialists to come in and work on the walls. You might then ask a piping specialist to come next to put in pipes for the bathrooms. However, the piping specialists might need to break into the floor to lay their pipes. You may even find out that the wall company didn't give them enough space to work within the walls.

What a mess! You'd never do that. You would hire one company that would coordinate all aspects of the build and work together with all the specialists to build the house properly. This is called a multi-disciplinary approach because all the different specialists work together for a single goal.

Working with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) used to look a lot like the first house building scenario. Each aspect of the spectrum was assessed separately. A child with multiple issues might see a counselor, an occupational therapist, and a speech pathologist but with each working independently, they could easily overstep each other's work (just like the pipe layers having to break through the floor).

The SCERTS Model is a multi-disciplinary educational approach to working with people with ASD that focuses on the whole person at once instead of individual parts. SCERTS stands for social communication, emotional regulation, and transactional support. The model calls for specialists in all these areas to work together as a team to approach the whole person as they build up the skills required for that person to succeed. Published in 2007 by Prizan, Wetherby, Rubin, and Laurent (a multi-disciplinary team of special educator, occupational therapist, developmental and behavioral therapist, and communication disorders specialist), SCERTS is practiced all over the world (including the U.S., Europe, China, Canada and Australia).

Social Communication

Social communication deals with a child's ability to both express themselves and understand the expressed information of others. Many children with ASD are unable to express emotion, either in their face or with other cues. Often, children with ASD have difficulty picking up emotional cues from others as well. If a child with ASD is doing something that hurts another child's feelings, the former may have no idea and no understanding even when it is explained.

While emotional expression is important, many children with ASD struggle with any communication. In severe cases of ASD, the child is non-verbal, meaning they do not speak at all. Functional communication is another focus of this area of the overall SCERTS model.

Finally, social communication deals with building trusting relationships. It's easy to imagine that having difficulty expressing yourself in any way makes it difficult for others to meet your needs. If your primary care givers are unable to meet your needs as a child, it can lead to a sense of mistrust in the world in general. Improving overall communication skills assists the child to also build trust.

Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation refers to helping a child with ASD learn to deal with every day stresses and anxiety in a healthy way in order to be able to remain engaged and interactive. Often, children (and adults) with ASD are overwhelmed by their environment. It is common to hear caregivers of children with ASD talk of meltdowns caused by a change in schedule. These are not the behaviors of a naughty child, they are simply extreme reactions to what the child views as an extremely challenging environment.

The goal in supporting self-regulation of emotional reactions is to allow children with ASD to remain engaged in their environment. If a child melts down, they remove themselves (even if mentally) from the work at hand (whether that be social interaction or education endeavors). When a child is able to identify an emotional situation and regulate his/her response, the outcome is positive for all concerned.

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