Practical Tips to Make your Classroom Autism-Friendly

classroom

A few weeks ago, I wrote a list of  typical characteristics exhibited by students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). In this post, I will provide a list of interventions and strategies to help teachers make their classroom Autism-friendly. As with all of my other articles, I must remind my dear readers that students with Autism are very different from each other, hence some of these strategies may not apply to all of them. My advice is to ‘personalize’ each of these strategies based on your students’ personalities, skill-set, social and academic abilities. It is also helpful to keep a written record of the interventions you have put in place and their effectiveness (or lack thereof). This will help you plan future interventions, and will also serve as evidence for annual reviews and/ or school inspections.

RULES AND REWARDS

  • Define classroom rules as early as possible. Boundaries should be clear and concise. Make sure that all rules are fair to everyone in the classroom and that are any ‘special’ arrangements made for students with ASD are explained to mainstream students. Click here for a useful explanation of fairness.
  • Reinforce rules with pictures and words that are clearly visible to the students.
  • Establish a reward system. Rewards could be visible for everyone, or only to individual students.

 

(See also: Useful tips for teachers meeting students with ASD for the first time)

 

PLACE IN THE CLASSROOM

Students with Autism need to sit away from distractions as most of them find it difficult to ‘tune-out’ sensory stimulations.
school circletime

  • Keep them away from the classroom doors as they may be distracted by people coming in and out of the class (more than your average student).
  • Keep them away from windows – passers-by are distracting enough for others.
  • If you are in a mainstream school, especially primary school, your classroom may be full of colourful posters and displays which could be very distracting to students with ASD. Make sure you place students with ASD in a seat where they are not in front of any colourful displays.
  • Make sure that they sit next to a good role model. Being seated next to a student who is hyperactive, talkative or just generally unpredictable can be very unsettling to students with ASD.
  • Establish a permanent space or spot for your students with ASD would sit everytime your class have Circle time and Carpet time. This aids predictability.

VISUAL REPRESENTATIONS

  • Most people with Autism prefer visual representations, especially of timetables. It is useful to have individual Visual timetables for students with ASD. It helps them organize their day and it helps them predict what will happen next. Physically putting pictures on visual timetables at the start of every school day helps students prepare themselves for the day ahead. Below are a few examples of how visual timetables could look like (taken from  asdteacher):

edited-schedules

  • Make sure that any change in the students’ or the class’ routine is represented in their timetables. Make sure that such changes are explained, too.
  • Non-verbal students may be helped by introducing PECS, or Picture Exchange Communication System. In simple terms, PECS is communication through pictures, i.e. students show their teachers a picture of what they want (e.g. the toilet) and the teacher honours that request.

COMMUNICATION

  • Make sure that you have their attention before communicating with them. Make sure you call on their names everytime you 6a00d8357f3f2969e2017d3bc742e7970c-400wiwant to speak to them.
  • Do not demand eye contact. People with Autism struggle to give eye-contact for various different reasons. It has been suggested that quite a lot of them are not able to process Auditory and Visual stimuli simultaneously. Others found that eye-contact is avoided when people with ASD are thinking and/ or concentrating.
  • Use concrete language. Keep it simple and straight to the point.
  • Be careful with metaphors, sarcasm and irony. People with ASD have a very literal understanding of language (a good example of this is Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper- videos). Most of them may not get phrases like ‘Pull your socks up’, or ‘Toast the Bride’. I remember this one student of mine a few years back who was extremely puzzled when I told him to ‘Hold that Thought’.
  • Explain everything that has a double meaning.
  • Allow extra processing time. The National Autistic Society recommends practitioners to wait at least six seconds before repeating an instruction (Six-second rule).

TEAM APPROACH

  • Teachers, parents and students should all be involved in planning interventions. A healthy relationship between schools and parents are an excellent platform for success.
  • Keep a home-school diary to increase communication with parents and to ensure that interventions are followed-through.

More on Autism:

Vote for Miss Montana, Alexis Wineman

What does Autism mean?

What is PDD-NOS?

Communication difficulties in Autism

Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper: Asperger’s Syndrome’s Poster Boy?

Still unsure if Sheldon has Asperger’s?

The Autistic Me: BBC Documentary

Autism in the classroom:

Guide to parents of students with ASD on coping with the first day back to school

Common signs of Autism in the classroom

First day back to school: Top tips for parents of children with Autism

Inspiring People with Autism:

Dr. Temple Grandin

Jessica-Jane Applegate (British Paralympian)

Satoshi Tajiri (Pokemon creator)

Carly Fleischmann

More on Savants:

The Psychology of Savants: Memory Masters

Artists with Autism

The Einstein Effect: Is there a link between having Autism and being a genius?

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14 thoughts on “Practical Tips to Make your Classroom Autism-Friendly”

  1. This is excellent. I am going to utilize some of these next week when we go back. I just moved to an area where there are not a lot of resources and trained individuals. Very different for me, I will share this with my staff. Thanks for making my job easier!

    I also have a blog relating to autism. I would love for you to visit and perhaps tell your readers. I think we will be able to relate very well!
    I wrote a post about 3 Ways To Help A Child Transition Back To School After The Holidays feel free to share it with your readers.
    Thanks!

    1. Hi,

      Thank you for your comment and for sharing your blog to me. I am setting up a page on my blog that would include my recommended websites and I will put your blog on it. I would be grateful too if you could share my blog with your readers.

      All the best!!

  2. Great write-up. I work in rural and remote Alaska, where most of the special education teachers have no training in disabilities other than LD. This is a great post to share with them, help them to understand the “why” behind some of the things that I encourage them to do. Helps to have a perspective of someone other than myself when I go into the schools.

  3. This is a really cool list. Of course, not all of the suggestions will work for every student (I, myself, hate reward systems because they make me feel so much farther away from independence) – if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person. :-)

    “Make sure that you have their attention before communicating with them. Make sure you call on their names everytime you want to speak to them.
    Do not demand eye contact. …
    Explain everything that has a double meaning.
    Allow extra processing time.”
    Yes yes yes. This is great.

    A thought: a home-school diary can be embarrassing to older kids who want privacy. If your parents know too much about your life it can hinder development of independence. Also, if kids are ready for it, you can reduce the specificity of the rules. It was harder for me to transition to a new school where rules are nuanced and the rules in one class differ from the rules in another class which differ from the rules at home than it would have been if the teachers in my old school had started to relax the black and white lines while I was still there.

    I would like to add another thing: reinforce that nothing horrible will happen if the kid makes a mistake. Even if the kid makes a really big mistake that doesn’t mean they are bad. A lot of autistic people get really really really worried about breaking rules.

  4. Thank you for this. I’m a parent of a 4-year old on the spectrum and definitely need all the help I can get when it comes to him at the house. My son’s teacher doesn’t really tell me a lot about how he’s doing unless something happens in school, but this is certainly a reminder for me to keep a school-home diary of sorts and also to email his teacher right now to see how he’s doing with summer school so far :)

    1. You’re welcome! I’m glad this post helped you. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would want some tips at home and/ or school. My details are on the ‘About the Author’ link.

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