Structure your classroom for autism – Getting “set up” before you begin

Structuring your classroom for autism is important. How you organize a classroom or school environment can make a huge difference in how autism students will get along in that space.  Here’s the truth. Some places are easier to navigate than others.

Here’s a personal example of navigating

I travel quite a bit, which means I spend a lot of time in airports. Most of the time I can find where I need to go by watching the signs. Most airports have great signs to give me the information I need so I can get to the right gate and board the right plane.

But there are times when an airport is more complicated. Sometimes what I think the signs mean and what they really mean are not the same.

Or worse, sometimes there is no sign at all.  I get off an airplane and have just a few minutes to get on my next flight.  I look around and there are no signs to let me know what gate I need to go to.

My heart starts pumping faster. . . my body starts to feel stress as I edge into “panic mode” because I don’t want to miss that next flight. Whew!!! We call that anxiety.

Setting up a classroom can be like that

Transition times can be challenging for students. How do they know where to go or what to do when they get there?  The way you give them the information can make a big difference in how they will handle that transition.

Name the spaces

Most important, does every place have a name? The Library Corner. The Carpet. The Work Table. The Rest Area. The Break Spot. Are the places labeled in a way that the students will recognize the label and the place and the name?

Or will things be different now?

Especially when everyone returns to classrooms during the Covid 19 season, will things be different from before? Does that mean that you will NOT have separate work areas in your classroom? Will students need to stay in more confined areas? Will there be new rules about what materials are available for them to use?

What will the new logistics be?

Will the typical routines from when students were last in school be different now?  How will students know the new rules? Will it be clear to them what they can do and what they cannot do?

Be sure to give them enough information so they don’t have to guess

Creating an environment in the classroom and in the school where students don’t have to guess or become confused will help them achieve better success.  A student who is less anxious, less confused and less frustrated will have more opportunity to learn and enjoy the events of the day.

The answer is visual supports

Navigating an environment that is clearly organized and communicates meaningful visual information to students is a first step toward having a highly successful school year.




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