Classroom Modifications for Autism

Instructor: Meg Fuller
As teachers, we want our students to succeed. We'd try anything, even if it meant turning the classroom upside down. Fortunately, there are much simpler modifications we can implement to help students with autism succeed in our classroom.

Why Modify?

Students with autism, due to the nature of their disability, are at a disadvantage to accessing education in a typical classroom setting. Difficulties with interpreting social cues, communicating their needs, developing relationships with other students, and sensitivity to change are a few challenges that students with autism may face in the school setting. In order for these students to succeed in our classrooms we need to take these disadvantages into account in order to create a opportunities for students with autism to learn alongside their peers.

Individualization

Individualization, meaning that each student is provided an environment and instruction to best suit his or her unique strengths, challenges, and motivations, should always be at the forefront of your mind when considering classroom modifications. Students with autism, just like their peers, have unique strengths, challenges, and motivators. What works well for one student with autism may not work for another student with autism. The same can be said for teachers: some modifications may work better with your teaching and classroom management style, while others may not. What is important is for you to find what works best for the unique students in your classroom and what fits best with your style.

Types of Modifications

This lesson will highlight three categories of modifications for students with autism: structure, classroom layout, and lessons. Some modifications are easily implemented classwide, whether in a general or special education setting. Others, such as those to specific assignments, can be implemented with specific students rather than the entire class. You may also find that what works well for your students with autism may also benefit students with other disabilities and even their general education peers. Descriptions and examples of each will help you and your students start down the road to success.

road sign with the word success and an arrow

Structure

  • Keep in mind, simple classroom expectations should be visually available anywhere students are expected to follow them.
  • In a predictable location, display an agenda or a schedule for the class or the day.
    • The agenda or schedule may incorporate words, pictures, or a combination.

Visual Schedule
class daily schedule displayed with time, words, and pictures.

  • List steps to complete a task or an assignment, and add pictures to show what each step looks like.
  • Pictures representing expectations, such as 'quiet mouth,' 'eyes on teacher,' and 'quiet hands,' could be attached to the student's desk, the white board, or other areas of instruction.

Visual for Quiet Hands
folded hands on a desk

  • Activities should have a clear start and end.
    • Use visual timers to signal transitions.
  • Build structure into each activity, including downtime.
    • Teach students what to do every time they get a worksheet (i.e., take out a pencil, write my name in the top-right corner, write the date in the top-left corner, read the directions, raise my hand if I have questions).
    • Create a visual that outlines options for students who have completed their work.
  • Develop daily routines that allow students to develop independence.
    • During dismissal, teach students to complete all necessary tasks in a specific order, incorporating visuals as needed.

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