I enjoy getting my room ready for the new school year. As a science teacher, it involves bringing life to my class. Filling aquariums with new fish, adding posters illustrating concepts and setting out materials that are perfectly organized (Take a picture, it won’t stay that way for long). After a professional development session on autism I began to think about what I could do to help students with autism in my classroom. Current rates of autism by the CDC are about 1 and 59 in schools(Source). I remember over a decade ago when this began to be a conversation in the classroom. Since then, I have worked with many autistic students.
Autism spectrum disorder causes a wide range of learning disables that are unique to each child. As the saying goes, “If you have seen one autistic child, you have seen one child.” They are all uniquely different. Legally we are required to use adaptations through the IEP process and Section 504 plans. To better autistic students experience in my classroom and also meet my legal obligations, here’s a list of things we can do in our physical space to help out.
Create an organized classroom space: Autistic students prefer routines. That means materials in clearly marked spaces will reduce stress. Simply putting a notecard with the word “Paper” clearly marked above the space is helpful. This isn’t something I would normally do in a middle school classroom, but making my space easier to navigate will help everyone.
Weekly and Daily Agendas: Providing a schedule of class assignments and daily activities is very helpful. I currently have a section of dry erase board dedicated to our daily schedule. This could be done on poster paper or even included in a classroom PowerPoint. Some students may even prefer a printed schedule. Along with this idea, giving students a heads up when major assignments are due. This helps them regulate time so they are not surprised when a big project is coming.
Alternate Media: Kids on the spectrum can have difficulty with visual or auditory learning styles. Know yourself. If you love to tell stories as part of your lessons, look for visual materials to back up your work. Consider websites like screen castomatic to record lessons so kids can play them back.
Quiet Spaces: Autistic students can easily become overwhelmed by noise and stimulation from the modern classroom. Have plans in place for a quiet space. Even a trip to the conference room is helpful. In my case the filters and bubblers on my classroom aquariums make a lot of background noise. Giving students space to decompress will go a long way in reducing stress.
Reflecting on these small changes, you may notice that many are good for all students. The benefit to the educator is you are enhancing everyone’s experience while meeting your legal obligations to your students who are in most need.
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