The physical environment can make a lot of demands on children and young people with autism. The sounds, smells, lighting, layout and visual aesthetic of a space can all have an impact. It is important that reasonable adjustments are made to the classroom environment to reduce as many barriers to learning as possible. As with any young person, barriers will differ depending on the individual. Any adaptations can often benefit all young people in the classroom not just the young person with autism.
The structure and ethos of the classroom are important tools for helping children on the spectrum understand expectations, and access the curriculum. All learning environments should provide a positive influence and clear structure for pupils with autism encourages independence and helps reduce anxiety. A well organised classroom can help make the environment a more predictable and accessible place, reducing distraction and confusion.
There are many opportunities to support understanding of the classroom environment through use of visuals. There are examples of how this has been organised within Fife schools in following video link, and further examples are in Visual Supports
- Where possible create physical structure, either using furniture or even tape or a mark on the floor. Make the function and any accompanying rules of each area as clear as possible. Consider carefully the seating arrangements in the classroom.
- Pupils may benefit from access to a quieter, distraction free area in the class, this does not need to be for the sole or permanent use of pupils with ASD but could be an area where any pupil can go to focus on a piece of work.
- The movement of other pupils as well as staff within the layout of the class is another aspect to consider particularly where several staff members may work within the room.
- Consideration of visuals within the classroom space is important. Busy displays and posters can be very distracting to a young person on the spectrum.
- As a general rule aim for a clutter-free environment. A well-organised classroom with stored items, equipment and books in clearly labelled cupboard/ areas will promote independence as well as reducing distraction.
- The potential for using visual supports is vast, but they should only be used if appropriate and effective and should be regularly reviewed.
- Establishing structure within the classroom through routine and consistent approach is also crucial. This will be considered further within the section Transitions through the day.