Creating Autism Friendly Classrooms

The cultivation of secondary classrooms suitable for young people with autistic or other SEND needs is fundamental to both personal and academic success.

Secondary schools offer up plenty of challenges for children and young people with autism. From classroom navigation to the successful completion of homework, teachers must remember to create inclusive environments suitable for every pupil. Autism friendly classrooms can vastly improve learning potential, social engagement, and confidence.

A comprehensive understanding of the autistic spectrum is fundamental. Take a look at our YouTube playlist to help adults and children alike to gather a sense of what it could be like to live with autism. Of course, autism exists on a vast spectrum. Each person harbours their own personal experiences. As a means of handling this, teachers must ensure that they are well equipped to provide autism friendly classrooms, giving every child with the opportunity to thrive at school.

In her brilliantly instructive blog post, Lynn McCann explores the ways in which your classroom and teaching can be easily adapted. With over 10 years’ worth of experience working in autism education, Lynn maintains that a whole school approach works most effectively to support all students. The educational, social, and sensory challenges can be extremely stressful for many:

“I was really scared of the corridors.  All the noise and so many people made my brain scream.  I couldn’t focus on where I was going and so I hid until everyone had gone.  I was always late for lessons.”   

– Girl with ASC, Year 7.

Lynn carefully covers the classroom, lesson access, parent involvement and behaviour in order to construct a holistic approach to developing an environment which feels safe for those on the autistic spectrum.

Her helpful tips for autism friendly classrooms include:

  • “Each subject teacher will want to make their classroom welcoming and most of all, functional for classes of different year groups coming into their room each day. Displays tend to be less of an issue for secondary rooms but clutter can be as much a problem for children who are visually distracted and find it hard to focus as in any classroom.
  • “Have a clear space around your whiteboard. Enables students to focus solely on the screen / board.   You could put key vocabulary words for the topic on the wall at the side of the whiteboard for those whose attention may wander slightly. You’d have to change this for each year group but if you have them on Velcro they can be easily changed.
  • “Display visual pictures with key vocabulary. This helps students remember and understand if they miss or don’t understand verbal information.
  • “Keep class rules simple. Most rules can be summed up in 2 points: Be safe. Be kind.
  • “Have a seating plan and keep to it. It really is worth allowing autistic/SEND pupils have some say in where they sit. For example, having to look over the tops of other people’s heads can mean accessing what is on the board more difficult for them.
  • “Suggest disorganised students colour code their timetable with the colour of the subject exercise books.  It might help them bring the right book to your lesson.
  • “It is likely a student with autism or SEND will struggle to have the right equipment. If that’s going to be likely in your class, have a spare set for them, kept in class and that they can access without making a fuss at the beginning of the lesson.”

There are plenty of other measures that can be put into place to assist those on the autistic spectrum during a potentially stressful time. Click here to read Lynn’s full article, including a free resource for secondary school teachers featuring her top ten tips.

Head over to the Thrive Facebook page to discuss your classroom tips with other teachers and education specialists.