MAKING AN AUTISM-FRIENDLY CLASSROOM
The value of a traditional classroom setting is already being challenged by the increasing number of autistic kids that are mostly enrolled in public schools today. Educators from different academic institutions find themselves needing to change their pedagogy and adopt new teaching concepts because their classroom composition is getting more diverse and complex not only in a cultural sense but in the aspects of communication and learning pattern as well. If you are an educator yourself, you must have known by now that many autistic students have the learning capacity comparable to those of their neurotypical counterparts hence they qualify to be taught in a regular educational program, inside the same classroom and immersed in the same kind of teaching strategies and materials as that of their normal classmates. But you also know for a fact that autistic individuals have special needs and varying autistic-related issues that must be addressed.
If you want your classroom to become autism-friendly, there are many ways that you can try to achieve it. Most of these methods require the installation of additional educational materials, and some others suggest an overhaul in the teaching method which you may have applied in the past.
Clearcut Rules and Instructions
Most often, autistic persons are being misunderstood by the people around them as stubborn or unmanageable. The truth is that they cannot easily comprehend social cues which make them unable to sense the thoughts and feelings of others. They also have the tendency to disregard other people’s opinion and instead talk extensively about their own thoughts. In a classroom setting, this may pose certain issues related to communication. To address this issue, you have to make sure that specific rules related to classroom discussions are strictly implemented, such as time limit for answering or raising questions, and respecting other people’s answers and opinions. If there are group activities or experiments, make sure that you deliver your instructions as clear and as systematic as possible so that the autistic student can perform the tasks with no problem.
Schedules and Calendars
Autistic persons commonly lack executive functions and self-regulation skills that are needed for multitasking and planning. Because of this, an easy-to-understand schedule or calendar can be of great help for autistic students who also need to be informed about set school activities. The schedule can be posted inside the classroom with clear markers so the students can take note, or handed out to each of them through printed copies. You can also make an electronic copy of it to be sent to the student’s phone or other devices for convenience.
A simple phone camera can spell a big difference in the learning process of students, especially those with autism. You can teach the students how to use their cameras to take pictures of the discussions written on the board if they are having difficulty taking down notes, which can sometimes dampen the students’ knowledge absorption. They can also take a picture of many other learning materials, like the schedules and reminders being posted inside the classroom. However, there must still be rules imposed in the use of camera inside the classroom, and you have to make sure that your autistic students know the reason why they have to observe it.
Notices and Announcements
Autistic students don’t really like the idea of changing anything that has already become a part of their daily routine. This includes the sequence of daily classroom programs or activities which they have already gotten used to. However, when the need to respond to such changes arises, autistic students will always try their best to adjust to these transitions. Educators can help autistic students better respond to such changes by giving early announcements and prompt notices so they can prepare ahead of time. It wouldn’t be good for autistic students to know about the changes when they’re already being imposed or put into place since it can easily overwhelm them and trigger meltdowns.
Autistic students can benefit so much from visual tools as this helps guide them on what they need to do if there’s nobody to ask from or knowledgeable enough to explain the concept to them. The aforementioned schedules and calendars are just two of dozens of visual aids that you can set up inside the classroom. Anything that has colours, pictures and pronounced objects on them can be a great visual material when the students are able to understand what it tries to portray in a relatively fast and easy manner. Examples of visual aids that are fundamental for an autistic student’s learning include different kinds of charts, interactive whiteboards, handouts, PowerPoint presentations, and videos shown through a projector.
Students with autism are highly vulnerable to sensory issues. When they are exposed to overwhelming sensory inputs produced by their classmates, or the classroom itself, autism meltdown may get triggered and start to show. The same fit can also occur when their sensory cravings are not met. To provide a solution to this problem, you can allocate a certain area of your classroom where autistic students can go and calm themselves when they are on the verge of an autism meltdown. If there’s not enough space, you can design your own teacher’s desk or cubicle as a calming corner where sensory management tools like headphones, stress balls, jackets, masks, and sunglasses are provided. When your autistic student starts to exhibit signs of possible meltdown, you can quickly send them to the calming corner to release the tension.
You can consult autism experts and therapists about specific activities designed to improve autism conditions that you think you can introduce to your class where not only your autistic students can benefit. The goal of these activities is to promote learning to all of your students while making sure that autism-specific needs are also addressed. You can take your model from popular art or music therapies and improvise by putting your own twists on these activities.