Impact Feature Issue on Supporting Success in School and Beyond for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Tips for Preparing Your Classroom

There are ways that you as a teacher can manipulate the physical aspects of your classroom and place children with Autism within the classroom to make them more comfortable without sacrificing your plans for the class in general. The following list provides advice about how to set up your classroom to address the particular behaviors, sensitivities, and characteristics of your individual students with Autism.

Need for sameness and difficulty with transitions

  • Define classroom areas: Create individual work areas, free time areas, and open areas for discussion using bookcases, cabinets.
  • Keep classroom consistently organized.
  • Choose designated seat for student.
  • Keep daily schedule in one place in classroom.
  • Develop a visual agenda to help the student understand the agenda in advance.

Problematic or acting-out behavior. Comment: As you get to know your student, you should also be analyzing the function of the behavior. If escape is the function, then you would not want to allow the child to “escape” without having accomplished something first or communicating appropriately the need for some self/down time. Preferably, a “break” area should be used prior to a blow up.

  • Have a recreation area or playground nearby for student to let off steam.
  • Identify a home base area to escape classroom stimulation for awhile.

Easily distracted by sights and sounds.

  • Seat student in low traffic area of classroom.
  • Use carpeting.
  • Face desks away from windows and doors.
  • Designate a home base area to escape classroom stimulation for awhile.
  • Teach child when he or she can and cannot use computer; some teachers cover the computer to indicate it’s not time to use it.
  • Seat student away from toys and books.
  • Help child to learn how to handle distractions over time.

Sensitivity to touch. Comment: In some cases, younger children with Autism still like to be touched. The parents will be able to help you understand their child’s sensitivity in this regard.

  • Avoid touching student initially.
  • Teach tolerance to touch.

Sensitivity to smells (wet shoes of classmate, hand lotion, musty locker, hamster cage, rubber cement).

  • Avoid using perfumes or heavy lotions.
  • Seat student near open door or open window in rooms with strong smells (art room).
  • Ask custodians to order and use unscented cleaning supplies.

Sensitivity to sounds (air conditioner, shuffling of feet, scratching of pencils, certain tones of music).

  • Move student away from sounds.
  • Use soft voice when possible.
  • Have student use earplugs or headphones (when appropriate).
  • Install carpeting or carpet remnants.
  • Put material under desk legs.
  • Prepare student for sounds (before bell rings, fire drills).
  • Gradually teach tolerance to sounds.

Sensitivity to light, particularly fluorescent lights.

  • Lower levels of light.
  • Turn off overhead lights.
  • Try different colors of light.
  • Have student use sunglasses or baseball cap.
  • Move student’s seat away from reflections on wall.
  • Use bulbs that do not flicker.

The information above is adapted and reprinted with permission from, “Life Journey Through Autism: An Educator’s Guide,” published by the Organization for Autism Research, Arlington, Virginia. It is part of a six-step plan for educators to use in supporting students with Autism in their classrooms and fostering an inclusive school.