Setting Up a Mainstream Classroom for an Autistic Student
Simple strategies for the general education classroom that lead to success!
More and more general education teachers have autistic students in their class. This is a wonderful opportunity for autistic students to learn and socialize, but it can also be a challenge for a teacher. These simple tried and true strategies will help you set up your classroom for your autistic student so they can learn, minimize classroom distractions and keep all of your students learning. Start school off successfully for all of your students with these simple tips.
Support Independent Learning
Children with autism tend to be highly visual. By creating simple visual cues in your classroom you can use this strength to increase independence and decrease frustration. Visual schedules let a child know what is happening now, what will happen next and will help them determine when an activity is done and when it's time to transition.
Post a Visual Schedule for the day.
Create small activity schedules. For each activity break it into steps. For example, during reading time, you can write a simple list on a white board or piece of paper that says read pages 1-5, answer questions 1-10 on page 5 of your workbook, put your workbook in the finished bin, put away your book.
Some autistic students don't understand spacial boundaries. Define personal space by drawing masking tape outlines on the floor. Make sure there is plenty of room between desks.
Children with autism pay attention to details and can miss the big picture.
Visual clutter such as displaying art, charts or decorations can distract from your teaching. When giving classroom instruction, try to teach in front of a blank background (i.e. a chalkboard with minimal writing). Store unnecessary or large equipment in closed cabinets, or tack fabric or curtains over open storage shelves or book cases.
Create a Calm Place
Stop meltdowns before they start, provide a quiet place to calm down!
In a language based society things can easily become confusing or overwhelming for your autistic student. Create a calm area for your autistic student when they begin exhibiting signs of stress. A calm area should be easily accessible with little visual stimulation. Calming items can include a vibrating pillow, visual timer or bean bag chair. A set of headphones with some preferred music can also be helpful. Try to direct the autistic student to the calm area when you first notice signs of stress or frustration. It's much easier to redirect a student at this stage instead of trying to help them in the midst of a full meltdown.
Pay Attention to Sensory Stimulation
Many autistic students are very sensitive to sensations that most of us don't even notice.
Fluorescent lighting can be distracting or even give the child with autism headaches. If your classroom has fluorescent lights try to sit the student next to the window or in an area with lots of natural light. Or you can purchase some classroom light filters.
Your student may be sensitive to smells avoid using air fresheners or wearing perfume.
Many autistic students are sensitive to sound. You may want to provide noise reduction ear muffs for loud times (like gym). Also, if possible let your autistic student know ahead of time about loud or unexpected sounds such as fire drills.
Pay attention to where your student is sitting. It may be best for them to sit away from a busy hallway, noisy students or high traffic areas. Also when thinking about seating if you have a student who is compassionate and a good example try to seat them next to your autistic student.