Primary School

Physical Set Up Of Classroom

“Josh loves to draw but suddenly refused to go to Art. The tall stools in the Art room were wobbly and he felt very unsafe when he sat on them.”

Points to note 
• Children with autism are particularly vulnerable to distractions and have difficulty filtering out irrelevant information, such as background sounds and visual information.

• Children with autism may be distracted and disturbed by movement of other children in the classroom, ie. another child may bump their chair or table when moving about the classroom.

• A child with autism will have difficulty concentrating if is seated in a position where bright sunlight, reflections or other visual information can be disturbing or distracting

What you can do
• If it is practical, establish a work area in the classroom that is uncluttered, free from distractions and not subject to ‘traffic flow’ by other students. It is important not to exclude the child from the rest of the class, but to establish a work area that takes the child’s special needs into account.

• Organise all work materials that the child will need for an activity before commencing the work.

• Seat the child in a quiet corner of the room where there is little chance of being distracted by light, reflections, the door opening or closing etc. Ensure there is good ventilation.

• The child may find it easier to focus and work at a desk if  the work surface is raised to a 15 degree angle.

• Check for sensory issues concerning chair type, ie. soft or hard. At group time, consider the texture of the carpet. A mat, cushion or fabric square may be useful.

• It can be helpful to stick the child’s daily visual schedule in front of the child’s work space.

For more information on classroom design see-

http://www.designshare.com/index.php/articles/classroom_autism/

Visual Stimuli in the Classroom 

Mary spends a lot of time in class looking through her fingers, when I asked her why she says the classroom hurts her eyes.”

Points to note
• Children with autism may be unable to tolerate bright sunlight or flickering fluorescent lighting. A classroom filled with bright colourful objects can be highly distracting or disturbing.

• A child with autism may have difficulty giving attention to the relevant information when he is in a room full of distracting visual stimuli.

• A child with autism can become disturbed by minor changes in the classroom, such as removing or relocating a picture.

• Some children with autism see words on a blackboard as a meaningless jumble.

• The child may squint at objects, use his peripheral vision or look at things very closely. He may be doing this because he enjoys the sensation he gets from this different perspective.

What you can do
• There is a huge pay-off for teachers who are prepared to familiarise themselves with and understand the child’s particular sensory issues. Remember each child has his/her own set of behaviours. Do not overgeneralise – autism is not like other disabilities.

• Examine the child’s physical environment. Check that he is not affected by sunlight streaming through a window or reflections that might cause a distraction. See also Physical setup of the classroom.

• If the child is being overloaded by visual stimuli, tell him exactly what he needs to focus on. Give short, explicit reminders – you may need to repeat these frequently.

• Worksheets can be enlarged to A3 size; use a highlighter to indicate the space where the answers must go. It might seem like a small thing, but this can be a real problem for children with autism.

• Encourage the child to use a blank sheet of paper when using worksheets, to cover up the other questions. This will help the child focus on one task at a time.

• Stress the importance of having an uncluttered work area. If the child has an aide, they can help them keep the desk tidy and ensure all  belongings are in order. When the child is working on their own, it may help to have the desk facing a blank wall to limit distractions.

Sit the child away from eye contact of other students if the child finds them distracting.

Classroom interaction

“Richard works very well by himself when away from the classroom in the library, but when he is with other students his behaviour escalates.”

Points to note
• A child with autism may have sensory issues that make the child feel threatened by the close proximity of other students. Group work may cause anxiety and the child may insist on working alone. When sitting on the floor, sensory difficulties may cause problems, ie. disliking the feeling of the carpet or floor covering.

• The child may find the social dimension of shared learning to be confusing.

• The child may seem to ‘switch-off’ at times and seem incapable of tuning into classroom activity.

• The child will need to be taught what to pay attention to in a busy distracting classroom.

• Be aware that a child who seems quiet and well-behaved may be most at risk in the classroom. Problem issues that are unseen may well go unaddressed until intense frustration results in verbal and/or physical outbursts

• In the classroom, a child with autism will have difficulty reading the intentions of the teacher and understanding why things happen the way they do.

• The child with autism may not understand that they are part of a group and may ignore instructions given to the class as a whole.

• The child may have difficulty with turn taking and may ask a lot of irrelevant questions, constantly interrupt the teacher or other students.

• Other children may be annoying or irritating the child with autism when the teacher isn’t looking, which can cause the child to have outbursts and want to work alone
.

What you can do
• The child will respond best in a classroom environment that is ordered and quiet, with an atmosphere that is encouraging, not critical.

• It is important the classroom teacher has a positive and supportive approach toward the child with autism; the other children will pick up on this and also adopt a welcoming attitude.

• Written instructions, or a combination of text and pictures should be used to support verbal instructions wherever possible.

• Be explicit when giving verbal instructions – don’t assume that the context in which it is given will make the meaning clear.

• Make sure the child understands the daily routine with a written timetable reinforced with images. See Visual Schedules for more information.

• Watch out for peers who may obviously or subtly annoy the child and ensure they do not sit together. Some peers may feed off or feedback inappropriate behaviours to the child – perhaps the child with autism likes these peers but the relationship is not necessarily desirable.

• Consider taking the child out of the classroom to a quiet area for short periods to teach new concepts in a setting free from distraction.

• Avoid doing things for the child that the child can do or could easily learn to do. Remember the aim is to develop independence.

• Take advantage of the number of quality educational computer programs available – if the child has a particular interest in computers he could be rewarded for good behaviour with extra time on the computer. A child who has difficulty with written tasks should be encouraged to type and print his work. Computer programs present information in a predictable, logical and sequential format, perfectly suited to the unique learning style of the child with autism.

• Don’t automatically assume the child is not listening or behaving if not responding to an instruction. The child needs to understand that they are part of the group. Say the child’s name to cue the child’s attention before giving instructions.

• Don’t assume that the child will read your intentions from your behaviour.

• Don’t assume that the child will understand the meaning of any task or activity unless very explicit instructions have been given.

• The child may not focus on what you consider to be the obvious focus of attention. Again, be explicit. You might need to say, “Look at what I’m holding.” Not simply, “Look over here.”

• Sit the child in the most appropriate place in the classroom, where the child is unlikely to be disturbed by the movement and close proximity of others. See also Physical setup of the classroom.

• If the child has difficulty sitting on the floor at group time, mark a special spot for on the mat. If the child is having sensory processing difficulties (ie. cannot tolerate the feel of the carpet) it may be necessary to provide a cushion or piece of fabric (fluffy fabric, something soft) for the child to sit on. If the child is still too distracted by those around them, the child may need to sit on a chair adjoining the mat, so the child is still part of the group but not distracted by sensory issues and other children.

• If the child resists working in small groups, let the child work with an integration aide or classroom assistant, if one is available. Then progress to working with one other child, before attempting group work.

• Allow for periods of solitude. The social demands of the classroom can be demanding and frustrating for a child with autism.

Visual supports can be downloaded from boardmakershare.com

Autism Classroom Interaction

Secondary School

 

 

 

 

Physical Setup of Classroom

Points to note
• The student may be particularly vulnerable to distractions and have difficulty filtering out irrelevant information, such as background sounds and visual information.
• The student may be distracted and disturbed by the free movement of others in the classroom, i.e. other students may bump into him, his chair or table when they move about the classroom. The student may be unable to understand this contact is accidental. Personal space is important.
• Some students are very sensitive to light and will have difficulty concentrating if seated in a position where bright sunlight or reflections hurt their eyes.
• Some students have difficulty with activities requiring balancing skills; the person might have a poor sense of equilibrium and lack awareness of their body’s position in space.

What you can do
• There is a huge pay-off for teachers who are prepared to familiarise themselves with and understand the student’s particular sensory issues. Remember each student has his/her own set of behaviours. Do not overgeneralise – ASD is not like other disabilities.

• If it is practical, establish a work area in the classroom that is uncluttered, free from distractions and not subject to ‘traffic flow’ by other students.

It is important not to exclude or separate the student from the rest of the class, but to establish a work area that takes  special needs into account. Make sure the young person  has a clear and easy path to the teacher for help.

• Organise all work materials that the student will need for an activity before commencing the work. Label tubs or trays to help him organise his work and supplies.

• Position the student in a quiet corner of the room where there is little chance of  being distracted by light, reflections, the door opening and closing etc. Ensure there is good ventilation. The student might perform better when facing a wall or window providing the view is not too distracting.

• The student might find it easier to focus and work at a desk if the work surface is raised to a 15 degree angle.

• Check for sensory issues concerning chair type, ie. soft or hard. If the students have to sit on the floor, consider the texture of the carpet. A mat, cushion or fabric square may be useful if the student finds the texture of the carpet particularly unpleasant.

• It can be helpful to have the student’s schedule in front of the work space or stuck inside the or school diary. Colour coding for different subjects is very helpful, particularly if this is combined with colour coded books and folders.

 

Visual Stimuli in the Classroom

Josh is a voracious reader who loves books, but refuses to go to the library. He is hypersensitive to a fluorescent light in the corner that constantly flickers.

Points to note
• Some students are unable to tolerate bright sunlight or flickering fluorescent lighting.

A classroom filled with bright colourful objects can be highly distracting or disturbing. The student might have difficulty giving attention to the relevant information when in a room full of distracting visual stimuli.

• Some students see words on a whiteboard as a meaningless jumble.

• Some students with ASD squint at objects; they  might use  peripheral vision or look at things very closely.

What you can do
• There is a huge pay-off for teachers who are prepared to familiarise themselves with and understand the student’s particular sensory issues. Remember each student has his/her own set of behaviours. Do not overgeneralise – ASD is not like other disabilities.

• Examine the student’s physical environment. Check that sunlight, reflections or flickering lights are not present and causing problems in the classroom .
• If the student seems overloaded by visual stimuli, tell the student exactly what they need to focus on. Give short, explicit reminders – you may need to repeat these frequently.

• Check whether the student has difficulty reading the white board. Some students find it hard to distinguish particular colours.

• Worksheets can be enlarged to A3 size; use a highlighter to indicate the space where the answers must go. It might seem like a small thing, but this can be a real problem for students with ASD.

• Encourage the student to use a blank sheet of paper to cover up the other questions on a worksheet. This will help them focus on one task at a time.

• Stress the importance of having an uncluttered work area. If the student has an aide, they can help keep the desk tidy and ensure all  belongings are in order. When the student is working on their own, it may help to have his desk facing a blank wall to limit distractions.

• Sit the student away from eye contact of others if they find this distracting.

• Always try to keep the environment tolerable. Ensure ‘own space’.

Classroom Interaction

James is disruptive when working in groups and at learning centre activities. He dislikes the lack of defined space and is threatened by situations that are unpredictable.

Points to note
• In the classroom, a student with ASD will have difficulty reading the intentions of the teacher and understanding why things happen the way they do.

• The student may not understand that they are part of a group and may ignore instructions given to the class as a whole.

• The student will need frequent reminders to pay attention, and importantly, what to pay attention to.

• The young person with ASD may have sensory processing difficulties that makes the close proximity of other students threatening or uncomfortable. Group work may cause anxiety and the student may insist on working alone.

• The student may have difficulty with turn taking, waiting and may ask a lot of irrelevant questions and constantly interrupt the teacher or his peers.
• The student may seem to ‘switch-off’ at times and seem incapable of tuning into classroom activity.

• Be aware that the student who seems quiet and well-behaved may be most at risk in the classroom; problem issues that are unseen may well go unaddressed until intense frustration results in verbal and/or physical outbursts.

What you can do
• The student will respond best in a classroom environment that is ordered and quiet, with an atmosphere that is encouraging, not critical.

• It is essential that the classroom teacher has a positive and supportive approach toward the student with ASD as other students will pick up on this and also adopt a welcoming attitude.

• Watch for peers who may obviously or subtly annoy the student and ensure they do not sit together. Some peers may feed off or feed back inappropriate behaviours to the student with ASD. While the student with ASD may like these peers, the relationship is not necessarily desirable.

• Consider taking the student out of the classroom to a quiet area for short periods to teach new concepts in a setting free from distraction.

• Written instructions, or a combination of text and pictures, should be used to support verbal instructions where possible.

• Be very explicit when giving verbal instructions – don’t assume that the context in which it is given will make the meaning clear.

• Don’t assume that the student will read your intentions from your behaviour.

• Make sure the student clearly understands the daily routine. Use a written timetable reinforced with images if necessary. See Visual supports for more information.

• Take advantage of the number of quality educational computer programs available – if the student has a particular interest in computers he could be rewarded for good behaviour with extra time on the computer. Students who have difficulty with written tasks can type and print their work.

• Don’t automatically assume misbehaviour if the student is not responding to an instruction. The Student needs to understand that they are part of the group. Say the persons name to gain their attention before giving instructions, even when giving group instructions.

• The student may not focus on what you consider to be the obvious focus of attention. Again, be explicit. For example, you might need to say, “Look at what I’m holding.” Not simply, “Look over here.”

• Sit the student in the most appropriate place in the classroom, where they are unlikely to be disturbed by the movement and close proximity of others.   Near the front of the room on the end of a row may be appropriate.

• If the student resists working in small groups, have him work with an integration aide or classroom assistant, if one is available. Then progress to working with one other student, before attempting group work.

• Use teacher-selected groups for classroom activities to ensure the child with ASD is not left out by his classmates.

• Allow for periods of solitude. The social demands of the classroom can be demanding and frustrating.

 

Tertiary Education

Understanding the needs of tertiary students with ASD.The high prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) makes it one of the most common developmental disabilities in the world yet many in the community lack an understanding of how individuals are affected by the condition.People with ASD have many positive attributes which make them great academics, researchers and high achievers.

Positive attributes
• excellent memory
• High intellectual and/or creative ability, some with genius or savant abilities in certain areas.
• honesty
• High level of drive and focus
• Keen interest in learning all possible facts about a topic
• adherence to rules and regulations
• great respect for other academics and people at the top of their field.

Difficulties experienced by students with ASD may include:

Motor skills
• slow and/or untidy handwriting-may have problems taking notes and require recorded lectures or to use a laptop
clumsiness
• unusual gait
Difficulty orienting to various spaces, difficulty orienting around a university campus.

Communication
• literal interpretation of language
• difficulty understanding body language and non-verbal cues
• unusual rhythm, pitch and intonation of speech
• difficulty initiating and sustaining a conversation
Difficulty clearly stating their point

Attention & Concentration
• short attention span for things not related to their interest or obsession.
• unable to attend to more than one stimulus at a time
• easily distracted by noise and other sensory distractions

Sensory Processing
• certain noises may be intolerable
• averse to strong smells/fragrances
• can be overwhelmed by visual stimuli
Bright light , reflections, dappled light may be very distracting or painful.

Social & Emotional
• limited eye contact
• low self esteem
• difficulty expressing thoughts and feelings
• inappropriate social behaviour
• very sensitive to criticism
• low frustration levels
• difficulty developing interpersonal relationships with peers and staff
• dislikes change in routine/ room location for lectures
• impaired ability to understand the thoughts and intentions of others

Study Skills
Poor time management
Difficulty starting a task
Difficulty organising class requirements
May lack motivation
Difficulty generalising skills
May have problems defining which information is important when reading academic journals or other work.

Remember a student with ASD may experience some of these difficulties to varying degrees – they will not experience all of them.

If you are an academic involved in teaching a student with ASD, the emphasis should be on ‘inclusive practice’ rather than extra teaching approaches. This is because most students with ASD can perform successfully after minor adjustment or modifications to teaching and assessment methods. Invariably, what is good for students with ASD is also good for all students.

Accommodating students with ASD must not entail reducing educational standards and requirements. Rather the aim is to:

• enhance student’s learning through modified and/or different teaching methods and the use of assistive technology and educational materials;
• provide alternative assessment and examination procedures which accommodate students’ requirements; and
• allow students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability and knowledge in a fair and equitable way.

Here are some useful tips for you to follow:

• Before Semester: Course Preparation and Planning
• During Semester: Giving Lectures, Seminars and Tutorials
• Assessment Strategies
• Examinations

Before Semester: Course Preparation and Planning

Prepare an environment and personal approach that encourages students with ASD to identify themselves to you.

Prepare comprehensive unit/subject outlines that include:
• attendance requirements;
• reading lists;
• a schedule of assignments with due dates emphasised, and recommended commencement dates to assist planning;
• assessment criteria;
• a list of the skills required and those to be developed for the subject matter;
• procedures for negotiating time extensions and study and assessment accommodations;
• where readings, lecture notes, outlines and overheads can be located; and
• a list of the university’s support services available to students.

During Semester: Giving Lectures, Seminars and Tutorials

• Be sensitive toward students with ASD as they may be self-conscious – avoid putting them on the spot.
• Encourage students with ASD to sit close to the front of the class where they can best see and hear visual and auditory cues.
• Use graphic images to enhance written material.
• Provide information about any changes in the lecture/tutorial schedule, assignments or examinations in writing (eg. email) as soon as possible.
• Make outlines of the structure of a lecture, practicum or tutorial sessions available 48 hours prior to classes and present them again at the start of classes.
• Endeavour to post lecture notes, summaries or outlines of lecture content on the web or make hard copies available.
• Allow audio taping of lectures to accommodate students with handwriting difficulties.
• Use visuals, demonstrations and concrete examples where possible and relate new or abstract concepts to everyday life.
• Provide students with study guides that direct them to key themes and arguments in their reading.
• Use a variety of teaching aids, for example PowerPoint presentations, overhead projectors, video tapes and graphics.
• Explain complex ideas as clearly and simply as possible – repeat explanations and information. Check for understanding, and rephrase if necessary.
• Encourage students to form co-operative learning groups in which to discuss and review class materials. This can also be achieved via virtual chat rooms or email discussion lists that you can oversee.

Assessment Strategies
The assessment accommodations that are provided for students with ASD must be based on knowledge of the individual’s disability, the impact of the disability on performance and the affect that assistive aids have on assessment.

Assignments
Where relevant to the individual, the following strategies can be used:
• Allow for alternative assignment formats, eg. oral reports, demonstration, use of a video or audio tape recorder or computer presentation.
• Where sequencing and structuring is problematic, permit students to submit assignments written in ‘dot point’ rather than essay format.
• Permit time extensions for written assignments. Even better, advise the student of an expected start date as well as the date for submission.
Some assignment questions or examination papers may need to be modified so the person with ASD can interpret the question in a way that is less ambiguous or wordy – without changing the standard of the question.

Examinations

• Provide practice exam questions that demonstrate exam format eg. essay responses, short answer or multiple choice questions.
• Allow extra time – an important accommodation for students with ASD due to difficulties with sensory and/or information processing.
• If a student needs to read aloud or requires silence to concentrate, allow for a separate or individual examination room.
• Allow alternative modes of examination, allowing students to demonstrate knowledge and understanding in an oral interview, audio taped questions and dictated response.

This section reproduced by permission of the Disability Support Unit, Australian National University, Canberra, from original material on thewww.anu.edu.au/disabilities website.

For more information on higher education for students with disabilities and learning difficulties, see also http://student.admin.utas.edu.au/services/options/