There’s one thing for sure… an autistic school classroom just looks different than the typical classroom. Follow along with us as we will be looking inside a classroom.
Before you Get to the Classroom: Looking inside an autistic classroom
In our particular instance, it is quite the road before we actually get to the elementary school classroom itself. In our school district, special needs classrooms design is to accommodate the levels of academics the student is able to achieve. All special needs students have what is known as an IEP ( individualized education plan). Under the law, all children have the right to access public education. Basically, the public school system has to be able to serve all age appropriate people. There is no way to do this properly unless legal documentation is there to communicate a documented special need ( usually signed off by a physician). Our IEP also includes our adaptive speech communication device that you can read about here from a previous post https://faithhealthautism.com/assistive-technology-speech-devices/
The IEP specifically addresses the abilities of the child, how they are progressing as compared to other children in the same developmental sphere. It also contains specific items addressing the particular need. These needs are anything from time allotments in speech or occupational therapy to adapted PE, special needs bus transportation, or just giving additional time to take online tests. Every student who has a need comes under the umbrella of the American Disability Act ( ADA). The IEP is the way that the school system legally communicates how they are accommodating the special needs.
Frankly, the IEP is the bane of my existence. I literally feel sorry for the teachers who write them. Luckily for all involved, the IEP is now digital which is saving quite a few trees since we now can get the IEP done electronically. Here is a great explanation of IEP’s include for use in the education system. This one is on YouTube by a group called Understood ( no affiliation, but great video). https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&ei=UTF-8&p=IEP&type=E210US714G0#id=1&vid=4a4a5192c2f626c351d5c1d1e461e565&action=click
Types of Classrooms
Every classroom designated for autism will have a few common themes. For my eldest son, he was completely verbal but had trouble with echolalia ( repeating words back) and thought processing. He eventually was able to complete grade level work as long as it was modified. In our district, this was classified as Learning Connections. It was a separate class that the students went to, but allowed them to be able to transition out into the regular student population for anything that they could enjoy with typical students. In our case, Kasey was able to go to science, and eventually, PE and art. He did often attend these classes with an aide who helped redirect him when he lost his focus.
Most of these special needs classroom will either have a quiet room, or a quiet section that is sometimes also called a sensory room. Usually these rooms have calm lighting, blankets, fidget toys, etc. that kids have access to when they need to calm an over-stimulated sensitive child. It also provides a place to take a break and rest a few minutes in a quieter zone. Here is a picture of the quiet room at our school this year.
Looking inside an autistic classroom: Individual Desk Areas
Autism classrooms have sensory aids available in the classroom to help kid’s work through the sensory needs in their bodies so that they can make academic progress. It is not unusual to see kids rolling on a ball while working at their desk instead of sitting still in a chair. Also velcro attached to a desktop can be very valuable for a child that needs tactile input for his or her hands while trying to work at a desk.
In our current classroom, the children are all in the same room; however the desks have moveable partitions around them to help minimize distractions. This works great, for the most part. My kiddos are both in the same room and each of them is the other person’s largest source of entertainment. Autism kids often learn differently than neurotypical kids. There are large amounts of manipulatives to help with math skills, adaptive pencils and grips to help with writing skills, lots of pictures to help with processing and reading skills.
Many of these classroom often have children in various stages of toilet training. These skill are challenging for neurodivergent kids and often come much later than their typically developing peers. Some of the classrooms have laundry facilities. Many of the classrooms for older age children have modified kitchen set ups so that learning can also occur in things like mixing, baking etc.
Classroom size and teacher numbers
Obviously, these classrooms have children who just need more individualized attention. Particularly in the preschool and elementary ages, there is usually a lead teacher trained in special needs education. Helping her are at least 2 teacher assistants. Classroom size is limited ( we currently have 10 kids in our class this year). Speech, occupational therapy, adaptive technology, music and most other therapists can come right into the classroom daily.
Even if you do not have the opportunity to interact with any of these kids ( so sorry for you, these are the coolest kids ever), I recommend that you take a peek inside these amazing classrooms. The creativity overflows, and I am in constant awe at the academic progress we make every year. Thanks so much for looking inside an autistic classroom with me.