Psychology (PSYC) 478

Autism Spectrum Disorder (Revision 2)

PSYC 478

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Delivery Mode: Individualized study online (with eTextbook)

Credits: 3

Area of Study: Social Science

Prerequisite: None

Precluded: PSYC 478 is a cross-listed course—a course available in two different disciplines—with EDPY 478. PSYC 478 cannot be taken for credit if credit has already been obtained for EDPY 478.

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences

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Psychology 478: Autism Spectrum Disorder is a three-credit, senior-level course that is designed to develop familiarity with a variety of topics related to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Issues related to etiology, diagnosis, characteristics of autism, and treatment models are presented. 

Autism is an early-onset neurodevelopmental disorder. A person receives a diagnosis of ASD when they have a combination of atypical responses in categories relating to social interaction, communication, and restrictive and repetitive behaviours. Many people on the autism spectrum face significant challenges with daily living, relationship building and maintenance, emotion awareness and regulation, and both verbal and nonverbal communication. Many also have problems with motor coordination and fine motor control to produce speech or certain sequences of movements. Other areas of difficulty may include problems with sensory regulation, sleep, attention, and executive function abilities.

The overall goal of this course is to provide you with an understanding of ASD and best practices in treatment. Given that the prevalence of ASD (if broadly defined) is 1 in 50 children, professionals and para-professionals in a variety of fields will encounter children, youth, and adults with ASD. Having this foundational understanding of ASD will enhance your skills and build capacity for successful interactions and outcomes.

Learning Outcomes

After completing PSYC 478, you should be able to do the following:

  • Explain the characteristics, diagnosis, and theorized etiologies of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
  • Discuss evidence-based practices and the different interventions available for individuals with ASD to assess their efficacy.
  • Describe the effect ASD can have in families throughout their lifespan, and identify ways to support the family.
  • Describe functional behaviour analysis and how antecedents and consequences influence behaviour.
  • Discuss common characteristics associated with ASD in the areas of communication, socialization, daily living, play, motor development, sexuality, and academics.
  • Discuss the use of assistive technology for individuals with ASD.
  • Describe evidence-based planning practices to promote successful transition to adulthood.


PSYC 478 comprises fourteen units:

  • Unit 1 – Overview
  • Unit 2 – Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs)
  • Unit 3 – Working with Families
  • Unit 4 – Environmental Measures
  • Unit 5 – Applied Behaviour Analysis
  • Unit 6 – Communication
  • Unit 7 – Social Skills
  • Unit 8 – Daily Living Skills (DLSs)
  • Unit 9 – Academic Skills
  • Unit 10 – Play-Focused Interventions
  • Unit 11 – Technology
  • Unit 12 – Motor Considerations
  • Unit 13 – Sexuality
  • Unit 14 –Transitions


To receive credit for PSYC 478, you must achieve an overall course grade of at least D (50 percent). In addition, all course assignments must be completed to pass the course. The weighting of assignments is as follows:

Activity Weighting
Planning Activity 10%
Case Study 35%
Participation in the Discussion Forum 25%
Personal Reflection Paper 30%
Total 100%

To learn more about assignments and examinations, please refer to Athabasca University's online Calendar.

Course Materials


Registration in this course includes an electronic textbook. For more information on electronic textbooks, please refer to our eText Initiative site.

Boutot, A. E. (2017). Autism Spectrum Disorders: Foundations, characteristics, and effective strategies (2nd ed.). Pearson Education, Inc.

A print version of the eText may be available for purchase from the publisher through a direct-to-student link provided on the course website; you can also acquire the textbook on your own if you wish.

Other Resources

All other learning resources will be available online.

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 2, September 4, 2020