How to Design an Autistic Classroom

Plan your classroom to accommodate autistic children.

When working with students on the autism spectrum, it's smart to plan your classroom space accordingly. Autistic students may have problems with social interaction and sensory overload. The traditional classroom environment is not suitable for autistic students because it provides too many distractions--students are unable to concentrate because they can hear noises outside, see the overhead lights flickering and can't get comfortable in their desks. Make changes to the traditional environment so that you can help foster a learning environment for autistic children.

Block out the external environment. Use blackout curtains on the windows so that students are not distracted by anything going on outside. You should also try to use windows that block out the sounds from outside. Additionally, pay attention to your classroom door--if there's a window on the door, you may want to cover that up as well.

Use simple design and colors. You do not want your walls to be too "busy" with a lot of colors and images. Stick with light-colored floors and walls and don't use extraneous things on your walls.

Create a schedule board. Autistic students feel more comfortable when they understand what's going to happen next. Create a visual schedule that allows them to understand what will happen throughout the day. For example, your schedule may include symbols for outside play, music and study time. Make your schedule changeable, especially if your daily plan changes.

Set up learning centers. Learning centers can help students to learn in a more relaxed environment. Set up centers that focus on math, reading, music and other subject areas that are appropriate for the age group that you are teaching.

Make the area safe. Remember that autistic children may be more prone to tantrums or seizures, which could put themselves in danger. Whenever possible, keep open spaces and use soft items. For example, you may want to cover up sharp edges with cushioning.

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.