Designing a Classroom for Students on the Autism Spectrum

When setting up your classroom, remember to consider the needs of your students who may be on the autism spectrum along with your other students.  Students on the spectrum (as well as many other students you may have, including those with ADD) benefit from having areas which can help calm them, keep them from becoming over-stimulated, and provide periodic “escape”.  

Make sure you have at least one visually quiet area.  This would be an area free from visual distractions.  A neutral blank wall or corner works well – just a break from the usual “busy” visuals in a classroom.  Allow students to work alone in these areas when needed.  It’s also important to create areas free from noise – such as a seating area with ear protectors.  

Internal clocks are often faulty in children with autism so they learn to depend on external cues. Therefore, clocks and timers should be easy to view. And daily schedules, with times, should be posted in a consistent location.  Give as much notice as possible if a schedule will change – or if there is a possibility of change (eg: recess may be held inside today if it rains this morning)

Children with autism feel comfortable with firm, consistent rules, so inconsistencies can cause great distress.  Several years ago, I had a high school student, on the autism spectrum who was particularly sensitive to policy.  The last day of school was “yearbook day” and students came to school basically to spend the whole day wondering the halls having classmates and teachers sign their yearbook.  This student came to school and sat in my classroom. Mid-morning he brought the hall pass clipboard to me, all filled out, asking for my signature. My first reaction was to tell him that of course, no hall pass was needed today to use the restroom as nearly the entire school was wandering the halls.  But I looked at his calm face, standing there patiently waiting for me to sign his hall pass request on the clipboard. I knew to argue would serve no purpose other than to create anxiety for him. So, I signed the hall pass and he happily went to use the restroom.

Most all teachers now have students in their classroom who are identified as being on the autism spectrum. It’s important that we try to keep them in mind as we design our room layout and our policies to ensure their educational progress and success.