Autism in the Classroom: An Overview
Preparing Your Classroom for a Student with Autism
By Marlise Witham, M.Ed
Perhaps this year's class includes your first student with autism. While autism is highly complex and every student is unique, there are some general steps teachers can take to make the classroom a more supportive learning environment.
Autism Spectrum Disorder, sometimes called Pervasive Developmental Disorder, is a condition that is diagnosed within the first three years of a child's life. As the word spectrum suggests, autism manifests a broad range of symptoms. Students with autism benefit from specialized social, behavioral, and communication interventions designed to lead them to reach their full potential.
With autism, the level of severity varies greatly from student to student. Symptoms may include (but are not limited to):
- Repeated (often rigid) body movements
- Different (often oversensitive) sensory needs
- Delayed verbal and nonverbal communication
- Self-abusive behavior
Some individuals with autism refer to themselves in the third person. While the pervasiveness of symptoms spans a broad range, they typically include social and communication challenges.
What Teachers Can Do
Experts recommend that school staff view students with autism as differently abled. All students are able to learn with appropriate instruction and modifications. In order to flourish, individuals with autism need a specialized, individual education program that meets their needs.
Educators can create supportive learning environments by minimizing distractions and unnecessary stimuli and by providing clear classroom structure and routines. In addition, setting consistent classroom expectations is essential for students with autism. Many successful programs include visual schedules, specific teaching of social skills, and computer-based literacy/communication strategies.
Professionals working with students with autism have found that visual, hands-on classroom tools are particularly beneficial, including:
- Charts that illustrate goals, schedules and expectations (Our suggestions: Daily Schedule Pocket Chart, Reward Raceway, and Magnetic Subject Labels.)
- Clocks and timers that show the length of a work period, which enable students to more easily understand when it is time to work and when it is time for a break (See Time Tracker Classroom Timer, Time Tracker Mini, Jumbo Timers, Simple Stopwatch, Time Tabletop Pocket Chart, and Elapsed Time Pocket Chart.)
- Realia or role play sets that allow for demonstration and teaching of social skills (See Teaching Telephone, Calculator Cash Register, Cash 'n' Carry Wallet, Doctor Set, School Set.)
It is estimated that one in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism1. The more teachers know about the disorder, the better they can support each student's learning needs.
Author Marlise Witham serves as director of Special Programs for Newell-Fonda Schools in Newell, Iowa. With Masters of Education degrees in both Special Education and Education Administration, Marlise has taught in general education, self-contained special education, and hearing-impaired classrooms in Grades PreK - 12. She is driven to provide education opportunities for ALL students to reach their full potential.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Community Report from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, “Prevalence of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) in Multiple Areas of the United States, 2004 and 2006”, United States, 2006.
- English Language Arts
- Geography/Social Studies
- Early Childhood
- Imaginative & Role Play
- Discovery & Exploration
- Games & Puzzles
- Critical Thinking
- English Language Arts
- Classroom Kits
- Skill Development
- Learning Styles
- Autism Spectrum
- Teacher Resources
For Your Classroom
- Classroom Activities
Tips for Your Classroom
- 10 Tips for Making Science Cross-Curricular
- 10 Tips for Using Reading Games
- 10 Tips to Organize Classroom for maximum Efficiency
- 5 Ways to Liven Up Student Response
- Overcoming Common Core Fears
- Demystifying Informational Text
- Cross-Curricular Math Tips that Rock
- Start the Year Off Right
- Build a Strong and Successful Common Core Classroom
- Tips and Tools to Help Your Students
- Tips to Add STEM into your Classroom
- Strategies to Support the Autism Spectrum in Your Classroom
- Starting Out With Math Manipulatives
- Setting Up for Classroom Success
- Simple Technology Activities
Learning At Home
- Ready, Set, Learn!
- Bored No More
- Making the Most of Parent-Teacher Conferences
- Getting Involved
- Getting Your Child Ready For School
- Encouraging Healthy Eating Habits
- Traveling with Kids?
- Cool Summer Learning
- Progress Check
- The Power of Imaginative Play
- Teacher Gifts that Keep Giving
- The True Value of a Toy
- Personality Presents
- 10 Tips to Keep Your New Year's Resolutions Strong All Year Long
- Making Memories
- Family Game Night
- Discover STEM
- Top 10 Product Picks for Kids with Autism
- Top Picks for Summer Learning for Kids with Special Needs
- Outdoor Learning, Outdoor Fun
- Plan for Summer Learning
- Tips to Help Kids Start the School Year Strong
- 5 Questions to Ask at Open House
- Thinking About Critical Thinking
- Autism in the Classroom
- Tips for Intervention's "First Responders"
- Decorating Your Classroom
- Using Manipulatives in Reading Intervention
- Help ELLs See the Big Picture
- Research on the Benefits of Manipulatives
- Embrace Technology for Assessment
- Blaze New Paths to Understanding
- What is STEM?
- Product Information
- Product Videos
- Bonus Content
- Activity and Coloring Pages