Autism Friendly Environment
An autism friendly environment also happens to be friendly to many other learners as well. The environment is structured in order to reduce frustration, mitigate sensory challenges, clarify expectations and maximize attention. Although the individual needs of the child with autism are considered, the environmental adaptations and accommodations serve other children with executive functioning challenges.Sarah Ward of Cognitive Connections points out that disorganized wall space contributes to a poor sense of organization and challenges with distractability. Similar to physical space around the room, the wall space can also be organized to minimize clutter and provide zones for student reference. She adds that blank areas should be provided to give the child visual rest.
Children who are tempted by off-limits items, overwhelmed/distracted by too much stimuli, or have difficulty picking out salient information from a busy background often benefit from masking. Cover shelves or high preference materials with sheets, curtains or tablecloths. Place "closed" signs on play areas that are off limits during particular periods of the day. Drape a towel over the computer and add a closed sign or universal "no" sign.
Many children with autism, receptive language deficits, difficulty multi-processing or executive function challenges may struggle with understanding the expectations from one station in the room to another. By establishing zones by purpose, students can associate the zones with the expected behaviors and activities the moment they arrive. Create clear boundaries between different stations in the room. For example, a carpet may be used for a play or reading area, tape outlines on the floor, bookshelves or other furniture as dividers, or commercial dividers. (Not so tall as the adult cannot peek over the top). A colored tape line can run at the door jamb to clarify expectations to stay in the classroom.
Many children who do not understand the nuances of social expectations are challenged by proximity to peers. They may, for example, not understand where their own personal space begins and ends, and therefore may reach, grab or otherwise impede on the space of others. Conversely, they may become distressed by the proximity of others as well. Simple structure adaptations can be made to support peer proximity. Use a place mat, tape outline or mini carrel as a boundary on tables. Use a carpet square, crate seat or a chair for circle time. Cardboard partitions or curtains can be used to separate a child's coat area so he or she knows exactly where his/her belongings go.
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