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MODULE: Structured Work Systems

What is a SWS?

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) thrive in well-organized classrooms. Environments that provide clear expectations and predictable routines promote increased engagement and on-task behavior (Tien & Lee, 2007). Creating such environments often involves the use of individual work systems.  Structured work systems are primary components of structured teaching (Link to Structured teaching module) (Hume & Odom, 2007; Mesibov, Shea, & Schopler, 2005). Individual work systems promote independence by organizing tasks and activities in ways that are comprehensible to individuals with autism. Specifically, work systems are visually structured sequences that provide opportunities to practice previously taught skills, concepts, or activities (Schopler, 1995). These systems clearly communicate four important pieces of information:

  1. What activities to complete
  2. How many activities to complete
  3. How the individual will know when the work is finished
  4. What will happen after the work is complete (Mesibov et al.,  2005).

Individual work systems use visual supports (link to visual support module) to provide the information above. Insert picture of a left to right work system. When using a work system, the individual with autism moves to the designated workspace. The activities to be completed are in one area of the workspace. There is another area designated for all completed work. Frequently, there is a list of activities for the individual to complete at his or her work desk. The individual then completes the following steps:

  • look at the list of activities to complete
  • obtains the first activity
  • place the work in his or her area
  • complete the activity
  • put the activity in the area designated for finished work
  • move on to the next task (Mesibov et al., 1994; Schopler , 1995).


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