Sensory equipment, safe spaces, and peer-based interventions are just a few of the accommodations that can benefit autistic students.
Autistic children can face challenges in the classroom when it comes to processing information, sensory experiences, and peer interactions.
For example, autistic children who experience sensory overload can feel overwhelmed in busy classrooms, while those who struggle with communication may find it difficult to connect with classmates.
Despite these challenges, autistic children have a right to the same education as their peers. Every autistic student has different needs – but all autistic students benefit when they have the support they need to thrive.
Here are some of the accommodations and modifications that can be helpful for autistic students in the classroom.
1. Sensory equipment
When we process information from our surroundings via our senses, we call this sensory processing. Research suggests that roughly 90% of autistic people have atypical sensory processing – usually either hyper-reactivity or hyporeactivity to sensory experiences.
Autistic students with sensory challenges can benefit from different sensory tools. For example, a student who is sensitive to loud noises may find it helpful to wear headphones or earbuds at school.
Or, a child who is hypoactive might find that a quiet fidget toy helps them focus better in class.
2. Supportive work areas
A busy classroom can be an overwhelming experience for autistic students, especially when they have sensory processing challenges. But even when sensory challenges aren’t present, it can still be helpful for an autistic child to have a safe space to retreat to at school.
One example of a retreat space that can be beneficial for students with autism is a calming corner. A quiet, calm area with dim lights, neutral colors, and soft furniture can be a safe space for autistic students experiencing anxiety, sensory overload, or other issues.
3. Visual reminders
Our executive function skills fuel many of the behaviors we engage in – from paying attention to our work to remembering our daily responsibilities.
One way to support autistic students in the classroom who struggle with executive function is through visual support. Visual aids, like printed calendars, visible clocks and timers, and posters with visual reminders, can all be helpful for daily tasks like homework and schedules.
4. Scheduled breaks
Children are constantly learning new things, and classroom breaks are an essential part of the learning process for younger children.
For autistic children who experience challenges in the classroom, it’s even more important to schedule frequent breaks during the school day.
For some autistic students, these scheduled breaks can be downtime – a quiet moment to calm down and unwind in a safe space.
But for other students, these breaks can be an excellent chance for sensory activities, body movement, stimming, or other enriching or fulfilling activities.
5. Peer interaction
Some autistic children have language delays, social anxiety, and other challenges that make it difficult to communicate with peers.
Peer-based interventions are one way that teachers can help support communication, socialization, and learning skills in students with autism.
One example of a peer-based intervention is having a trained peer mentor or “buddy” that an autistic student can work with at school.
Other examples include group work assignments, social skills training, and teacher-facilitated interactions between students.
Know your rights
Federal law requires all schools to provide accommodations for students with autism and other disabilities through a 504 plan or an IEP, if the disability is causing educational impairments.
- 504 plan: A 504 plan allows accommodations for students with disabilities and protects individuals from discrimination in schools that receive federal financial assistance.
- IEP: An IEP is an individualized plan for students with disabilities that provides accommodations, modifications, assistance, and other educational support.
If your child is denied an IEP or 504 plan consider seeking an educational advocate for assistance, most states provide these free of charge.
Students with autism and other disabilities benefit from accommodations that help ensure they’re getting the quality of education they need.
But, alongside accommodations, some autistic students may also need modifications to help them succeed.
Some examples of modifications that autistic students might benefit from can include:
- Varied instruction: using pictures during lessons instead of words, teaching using multiple senses, or offering frequent feedback and check-ins during assignments
- Assistive technology: allowing autistic students to use computer programs for assignments, text-to-speech during reading activities, or even a virtual note-taker
- Support programs: access to programs such as social skills training for socialization or cognitive behavioral therapy for teaching skills to help regulate moods
Autistic students often experience more challenges in the classroom than their peers – especially when that classroom doesn’t accommodate their needs.
But autistic students have a right to accommodations and modifications that will provide an equitable learning environment and experience.
If you’re the parent of an autistic student, consider reaching out to your child’s school to see what kind of accommodations are available to help your child thrive.