Personal Space Activities for Students with Autism

Instructor: Lori Sturdivant

Lori has a specialist's degree in Instructional Leadership/Mild Moderate and currently serves as the Lead Teacher for The University of Southern Mississippi's Autism Project.

Do you have students with autism spectrum disorder who are struggling to identify and respect the personal space of others? This lesson will provide you with multiple personal space activities that are easy to implement in your classroom today!

What Would You Do?

Johnny often walks up to his classmates and grabs their arms, leans on them, or touches their faces when he is greeting them. This makes the other students very uncomfortable, and sometimes they respond negatively to him. Johnny doesn't understand why no one wants to sit with him at lunch or play with him at recess.

What would you do to help Johnny? You can use the following activities to help your students become aware of personal space, and why it is important to respect it.

What Is Personal Space?

Personal space is the physical space that immediately surrounds a person. It is the distance separating one person from another person when interacting. The exact measurement of personal space is different for every person. However, personal space is typically a circumference of two to five feet around an adult, or two to three feet for children. When someone's personal space is invaded or encroached upon, it may cause anger, anxiety, nervousness, etc.

Most of your students will have an intuitive sense of personal space. They will know when they have entered someone else's personal space, or when theirs has been encroached. However, many students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have deficits in social skills, and will be unable to do this without explicit instruction. Being unable to recognize personal space can cause your students to be rejected by their classmates, and have difficulty making friends. It is also a safety concern because the inability to know when someone is crossing into one's owns personal space can make them vulnerable to predators.

Personal Space Activities

The following four activities will help your students with autism learn about personal space.

Measure It Out

In this activity, you will simply show students what personal space looks like in reference to distance. You can use a yardstick or measuring tape to measure out personal space. Then explain that this is the amount of space you keep between yourself and others when in social situations.

Other strategies are to have students stick out their arms to get an idea of how much distance in length is needed between them and their peers when interacting. Just remind them, that they will not actually stick out their arms when approaching someone.

Circle of Space

Sit one student on the floor. Using yarn or rope make a small circle around the student. Leave extra material at the ends so that you can expand the circle as the activity continues. Tell students that personal space is smaller for people such as our moms, dads, brothers, sisters, etc.

Now tell students that the circle of space grows for friends, classmates and teachers, and make the circle bigger around the student. Explain that these people are close to us, but not as close as our parents and siblings.

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