Supporting Students with Autism: 10 Ideas for Inclusive Classrooms (2023)

Adapted from: P. Kluth (2010). “You’re Going to Love This Kid!”: Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom.

While most educators agree that no recipe exists for teaching any individual student or group of students, there are certainly some guidelines that can be helpful for supporting students with certain labels. Students with autism may have unique needs with learning, social skills, and communication, therefore, teachers will need strategies to address each one of these areas. These ten simple ideas will help teachers address some of the aforementioned needs and provide guidance for bringing out the best in learners with autism labels.

1: Learn about the learner from the learner

Oftentimes, educators needing information about a student will study the individual’s educational records. While these documents are certainly one source of information, they are seldom the most helpful source of information. Teachers wanting to know more about a student with autism should ask that student to provide information. Some students will be quite wiling and able to share information while others may need coaxing or support from family members. Teachers might ask for this information in a myriad of ways. For instance, they might ask the student to take a short survey or sit for an informal interview. One teacher asked his student with autism, to create a list of teaching tips that might help kids with learning differences. The teacher then published the guide and gave it out to all educators in the school.

If the student with autism is unable to communicate in a reliable way, teachers can go to families for help. Parents can share the teaching tips they have found most useful in the home or provide video of the learner engaged in different family and community activities. These types of materials tend to give educators ideas that are more useful and concrete than do traditional educational reports and assessments.

2: Teach to fascinations

Whenever possible, educators should use interests, strengths, skills, areas of expertise, and gifts as tools for teaching. Can a passion for GPS be used to inspire more reading (operations manuals), new math skills (be a “human GPS”-calculate shortest route between two places), or fun social studies questions (“How would the world be different today if Christopher Columbus had GPS?”) . [For more on using fascinations to support students with autism see Just Give Him the Whale, a book I wrote on this topic with my colleague, Patrick Schwarz.]

(Video) Supporting autistic students in inclusion settings

3: Get them talking

In some classrooms, a handful of students dominate small-group conversations and whole-class discussions. While it is important for these verbal and outgoing students to have a voice in the classroom, it is equally important for other students — including shy and quiet students, students using English as a second language, and students with disabilities — to have opportunities to share and challenge ideas, ask and answer questions, and exchange thoughts. To ensure that all students have opportunities to communicate, teachers need to put structures and activities in place that allow for interaction.

In one classroom, students were asked to “turn and talk” to each other at various points in the day. A high school history teacher used this strategy throughout the year to break up his lectures and to give students time to teach the material to each other. After giving mini-lectures of fifteen minutes, he asked students to turn to a partner and answer a specific question or re-explain a concept he had taught. For instance, after giving a short lecture on the Presidency, he asked students to discuss, “What qualities do Americans seem to want in a President?; and “How has this list of desired qualities changed over time?” A student with Asperger’s syndrome who needed practice with skills such as staying on topic and turn taking was able to practice them daily.

Teachers can also provide opportunities for communication by giving all students “airtime” during whole-class discussion. One way to do this is to ask for physical whole-class responses to certain prompts. For instance, instead of asking, “Who can tell me a fraction that equals one half?”, the teacher might say, “Stand up if you think you can name a fraction that equals one half”. This strategy not only gives all learners a chance to give an answer, but it allows for some teacher-sanctioned movement, something often welcomed by students with autism. Whole-class physical responses are also appropriate for students who are non-verbal, making it a perfect choice for the diverse, inclusive classroom.

4: Give choices

Choice may not only give students a feeling of control in their lives, but an opportunity to learn about themselves as workers and learners. Choice may be especially helpful for students with autism who have special needs when it comes to learning environment, lesson materials, and communication. Choice can be built into almost any part of the school day. Students can choose which assessments to complete, which role to take in a cooperative group, and how to receive personal assistance and supports. Examples of choices that can be offered in classrooms include:

  • Solve five of the ten problems assigned
  • Work alone or with a small group
  • Read quietly or with a friend
  • Use a pencil, pen, or the computer
  • Conduct your research in the library or in the resource room
  • Take notes using words or pictures

5: Consider handwriting alternatives

Writing can be a major source of tension and struggle for students with autism. Some students cannot write at all and others who can write, may have a difficult time doing so. In order to support a student struggling with writing, a teacher may try to give the child gentle encouragement as he or she attempts to do some writing- a word, a sentence, or a few lines. Teachers might also allow the student to use a computer, word processor, or even an old typewriter for some or for all lessons. For some learners, being able to use a word processor when writing helps them focus on the task at hand (content) instead of on their motor skills (process).

(Video) Autism (ASC) Classroom Strategies | 10 Suggestions for Schools & Teachers | SEMH Support & Wellbeing

6: Help with organizing

While some students with autism are ultra-organized, others need support to find materials, keep their locker and desk areas neat, and remember to bring their assignments home at the end of the day. Consider implementing support strategies that all students might find useful. For instance, teachers can have all students copy down assignments, pack book bags, put materials away, and clean work spaces together. Structuring this time daily will give all learners the opportunity to be organized and thoughtful about how they prepare to transition from school to home. Specific skills can even be taught during this time (e.g., creating to-do lists, prioritizing tasks).

7: Support transitions

Some students with autism struggle with transitions. Some are uncomfortable changing from environment to environment, while others have problems moving from activity to activity. Individuals with autism report that changes can be extremely difficult causing stress and feelings of disorientation. Teachers can minimize the discomfort students may feel when transitioning by:

Use a visual timer so students can manage time on their own throughout an activity.

  • Giving reminders to the whole class before any transition.
  • Providing the student or entire class with a transitional activity such as writing in a homework notebook or for younger students, singing a short song about “cleaning up”.
  • Asking peers to help in supporting transition time. In elementary classrooms, teachers can ask all students to move from place to place with a partner. In middle and high school classrooms, students might choose a peer to walk with during passing time.
  • Provide a transition aid (a toy, object, or picture).

8: Create a comfortable classroom

Sometimes students are unsuccessful because they are uncomfortable or feel unsafe or even afraid in their educational environment. Providing an appropriate learning environment can be as central to a student’s success as any teaching strategy or educational tool. Students with autism will be the most prepared to learn in places where they can relax and feel secure. Ideas for making the classroom more comfortable include providing seating options (e.g., beanbag chairs, rocking chairs); reducing direct light when possible (e.g., using upward projecting light, providing a visor to a student who is especially sensitive); and minimizing distracting noises (e.g., providing earplugs or headphones during certain activities).

9: Take a break

Some students work best when they can pause between tasks and take a break of some kind (walk around, stretch, or simply stop working). Some learners will need walking breaks — these breaks can last anywhere from a few seconds to fifteen or twenty minutes. Some students will need to walk up and down a hallway once or twice, others will be fine if allowed to wander around in the classroom.

(Video) Inclusive Classrooms For Special Needs Students - Classroom Management Strategies (10)

A teacher who realized the importance of these instructional pauses decided to offer them to all learners. He regularly gave students a prompt to discuss (e.g., What do you know about probability?) and then directed them to “talk and walk” with a partner.

10: Include

If students are to learn appropriate behaviors, they will need to be in the inclusive environment to see and hear how their peers talk and act. If students are to learn social skills, they will need to be in a space where they can listen to and learn from others who are socializing. If students will need specialized supports to succeed academically, then teachers need to see the learner functioning in the inclusive classroom to know what types of supports will be needed.

If it is true that we learn by doing, then the best way to learn about supporting students with autism in inclusive schools is to include them.

This article is from the website of Dr. Paula Kluth. It, along with many others on inclusive schooling, differentiated instruction, and literacy can be found atwww.PaulaKluth.com. Visit now to read her Tip of the Day, read dozens of free articles, and learn more about supporting diverse learners in K-12 classrooms.

(Video) Small Group Rotations with Moderate/Severe Special Education Students

FAQs

What are some teaching strategies that can be used in an inclusive classroom? ›

Provide a safe space (physically and emotionally)
  • Provide a sensitive environment.
  • Provide encouragement and guide learning.
  • Provide a quiet area.
  • Express positive regard and support.
  • Facilitate student voice, autonomy and independence.
  • Set clear classroom expectations.

What are 5 strategies used to work with a child with autism? ›

The 5 Best Teaching Strategies for Autism
  • Support Routines and Transitions. Most children with autism are sensitive to abrupt changes in routine and will learn best in routine situations. ...
  • Use Visual Cues. ...
  • Use Special Interests as a Gateway to Teaching Skills. ...
  • Incorporate Sensory Tools. ...
  • Support social skills practice.
5 Nov 2019

How Can autism be inclusive? ›

Incorporate program modifications that allow the child with autism to share activities and experiences with other participants. Focus on the participant's strengths. Encourage interaction between youth with autism and their typically developing peers. Be flexible.

What are good activities for autism? ›

Hobbies such as collecting stamps, playing cards or board games, drawing and photography can also provide opportunities for enjoyment, as well as increased self-confidence and motivation individuals on the spectrum.

How do you accommodate students with autism? ›

What are typical challenges and accommodations for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
  1. clearly established and ordered routines.
  2. warning and preparation when changes are anticipated.
  3. planning and practicing of communication strategies and social routines.
  4. earplugs or noise-canceling headsets in hallways or lunchroom.

What are the 7 strategies to improve inclusive education? ›

Use these inclusive classroom strategies to help get you started with building a positive classroom culture:
  • Get to Know Your Students and Let Them Get to Know You. ...
  • Create a Safe Space for Students to Share. ...
  • Deliver Instruction in a Variety of Ways. ...
  • Choose Relevant Literature. ...
  • Invite Guest Speakers to Share Their Stories.

What are the 5 components of special and inclusive education? ›

Successful inclusive education happens primarily through accepting, understanding, and attending to student differences and diversity, which can include physical, cognitive, academic, social, and emotional.

What are the 7 pillars of inclusion? ›

7 Pillars of Inclusion
  • Choice.
  • Partnerships.
  • Communications.
  • Policies.
  • Opportunities.
  • Access.
  • Attitude.

What are 3 ways structure supports students with autism? ›

This chapter discusses the features of structure that have proven useful in classrooms for students of all ages with autism. These features are physical organization, scheduling, and teaching methods. The key to effectively using each of these features is individualization.

How can teachers support students with autism? ›

Having predictability in the classroom eases anxiety for students with autism and will help avoid distraction. Students are less worried or curious about what will happen next and can better focus on the work at hand. Give your student a schedule that they can follow.

What are three classroom strategies techniques modifications A teacher can support a child with autism? ›

10 Easy-to-Implement Behavior Strategies for Children with Autism
  • Teach time management.
  • Set realistic expectations.
  • Reinforce positive behaviors.
  • Give choices for non-preferred activities.
  • Use visuals and social stories.
  • Teach coping skills and calming strategies.
  • Practice transitions.
  • Be consistent each day.

Why is inclusion important for autism? ›

Inclusion of students with autism in the general classroom can minimize stigma against autism while students learn how to communicate appropriately with one another. Having a student with autism in a general classroom also reduces negativity associated with autism, and children will learn how to work with one another.

What is an autistic support classroom? ›

Autistic Support Classrooms

These classrooms are set up to meet the specific needs of autistic children. They are staffed by teachers and aides trained in autism and education. Autistic support classrooms have several advantages: They are usually very small, with a high adult-to-child ratio.

What are the benefits of inclusion for children with autism? ›

For the autistic student, peer understanding, and acceptance increases the opportunity for social learning and improved outcomes. For the neurotypical student, it offers opportunities to learn about difference, tolerance, and compassion which are key leadership qualities (Hehir et al, 2016).

What is in an inclusive classroom? ›

An inclusive classroom is a general education classroom where students with and without learning differences learn together. Inclusive classrooms are welcoming and support the diverse academic, social, emotional, and communication needs of all students.

What is an autistic support classroom? ›

Autistic Support Classrooms

These classrooms are set up to meet the specific needs of autistic children. They are staffed by teachers and aides trained in autism and education. Autistic support classrooms have several advantages: They are usually very small, with a high adult-to-child ratio.

How do you deal with disruptive behaviors by students with autism? ›

The following strategies help school staff successfully handle the behavior challenges exhibited by children with autism in the classroom.
  1. Follow A Behavior Plan. ...
  2. Incorporate Strengths & Interests. ...
  3. Increase Structure. ...
  4. Set & Explain Realistic Expectations. ...
  5. Time Transitions. ...
  6. Address Sensory Sensitivities. ...
  7. Offer Quiet Space.
27 Feb 2020

What are some modifications for students with autism? ›

Emotional and Self-Regulation
  • Designating a "safe" or "quiet" place in classroom.
  • Using a "break" card for breaks.
  • Using visual markers, tape, etc. to designate boundaries.
  • Modifying length and content of assignments.
  • Decreasing work load for school work or homework.

Videos

1. Inclusion Classrooms
(Autism Society of Southern Illinois)
2. Helping children with autism succeed in a general ed classroom
(Reading Rockets)
3. Including Students with Autism in General Education Classrooms: Tips for Teachers - By Josh Taylor
(VCU RRTC)
4. Practical Tips On How To Teach An Autistic Student - Inclusive Classroom | by Maria Borde
(Autism Tips)
5. Making the Classroom Inclusive for Autistic Children
(Pehchaan Clinic)
6. Top 10 approaches to Inclusive Teaching and Learning (Part 1) #InclusivePracticesMaghreb
(British Council MENA)
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