The Scaffolds Model

The Scaffolds model comprises a core set of principles and practices that can be embedded into activities of daily life, recreational activities, classrooms, and community settings, in order to support and include individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. This website has been developed to disseminate open-access resources, training materials, information, and program models to create an active network of supportive communities.

Scaffolds principles and practices include:

Presuming competence – the belief that people with autism and related developmental conditions are capable of understanding and appreciating the same things others are interested in, but may have difficulty demonstrating their competence through speech or skilled movement.

Scaffolding – the view that growth emerges through intentional engagement with others, centered on interesting, enjoyable activities; offering information and skills that lie slightly ahead of the independent ability of the individual, coupled with just enough support to ensure success and pull development forward, while gradually encouraging independence.

Treatment as equals – the view that individuals with autism and related developmental conditions are different but equal; to be accepted and embraced as whole individuals, not as broken or disordered people to be managed, molded, coerced, or changed.

Lead-following – placing emphasis first on following the lead of the individual, engaging around whatever interest they demonstrate (even those that may be off-topic or unusual), and only then encouraging them to join in other activities.

Intentional modeling of communication Focusing on the interests expressed by the individual as opportunities to provoke thought, model language, and encourage responses, with the goal of enhancing independent communication.

Positive behavior supports – Addressing behavioral challenges with a goal of identifying underlying needs, then teaching communicative alternatives or appropriate substitute behaviors, rather than enforcing “compliance.”

Sensorimotor accommodations – Supporting the whole person, taking sensory differences into account, including activities that target whole-body awareness, proprioception, rhythm, and motor initiation.

Inclusive relationships – Encouraging social interactions and friendships by scaffolding interactions with typical peers around topics and activities of interest, while emphasizing that relationships with people with autism can, will, and often should look “different” than neurotypical relationships.

Each component of the Scaffolds model is described in Presume Competence by Dr. John P. Hussman of the Hussman Institute for Autism. This manual is the Institute’s handbook for supporting individuals with autism and related conditions.

You can download Presume Competence with this link:

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