Structuring Environments for Students with Autism
Written by Guest Blogger: Cindy Golden, OMAC Consulting
Students with autism require structure. Based on the DSM-IV (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) criteria, students with autism require several things to be successful in a classroom environment. They require:
- Physical Structure
- Behavioral Consistency
- Visual Organization
- Visual Supports
- Concrete Teaching Expectations
- Way to Understand Social Environments
- Clear, Simple Communication
Let me give you 5 key things to keep in mind as you begin to structure an environment for students with autism. Each of these is based not only on the diagnostic criteria but also current researched best practice.
1. Visual Supports are vital. Even though the students may be verbal, they also require visuals in order to make sense of the environmental expectations. These visuals may be in the form of photos, picture symbols or words. Supports may be needed as explanations of events, of academic tasks, of behavioral requirement or just as reminders.
(example: place a visual picture/symbol/photo next to the posted behavioral expectations of the classroom. This will enhance understanding)
2. The environment should be set up so that it makes sense to the students. Students on the spectrum do not understand the environment as do typical students. So make sure the layout of the setting helps to give the students clues to the expectations of the setting.
(example: create a work area, leisure area, group area, etc. Include visuals of the expectations in each of the areas)
3. Structure the environmental setting to encourage independence. Do not do tasks for the students that they can do for themselves. Structure the environment to the point that the students are independent then lessen the structure as they obtain mastery.
(example: label classroom materials so that the students can access the materials independently)
4. Minimize visual clutter. Stand at the door of the room and look around. Does the room appear cluttered? The room should appear uncluttered and visually organized. Lessen the decoration in the classroom and make better use of visuals primarily for the purpose of teaching.
(example: use solid color fabric to cover up visual clutter on bookcases.)
5. Encourage communication of some kind. Even though the student is nonverbal, encourage the use of sign language, picture symbol exchange or even an augmentative communication device. Whatever the form of communication, it should be used in all settings so to promote generalization and independence.
(example: use a picture symbol wallet with students for requesting needs or desires)