Accommodations for Students With Autism

Reviewed by:

August 9, 2022

School can be a challenging environment for any student but can be especially difficult for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Students are required to sit still for long periods, endure lengthy lectures, and navigate changing schedules. Schools are filled with loud noises and bright colors that can cause sensory overload. But with appropriate accommodations, school can provide opportunities for improved socialization and learning.

There are many common accommodations for autism in the classroom and workplace. Some of these adaptations for autism can be cost efficient and easy to implement, but may take some practice by the teachers and students.

The child’s rights

People with autism have many legal protections. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted in 1975 and revised in 2004. It requires all states to provide free and appropriate education that meets the unique needs of qualifying students.

Appropriate education refers to an education tailored to the child's needs to make sure they make academic progress. Appropriate does not always mean “best.” 

An individual with autism is also entitled to learn in the “least restrictive environment” that allows them to interact with others who do not have a disability. Accommodations can help the student with autism to participate in the general education curriculum.

Modifications for students with autism

There are many adaptations for students with autism that can set the classroom up for success.

Minimize distractions

People with autism may be easily distracted because they have difficulty regulating attention and response to stimuli. Some common distractions might be children playing outside, students asking for help, or conversations between classmates. 

Minimizing distraction is a common adaptation for autism. Some strategies for minimizing distractions include:

  • Earplugs
  • Low distraction work areas
  • Optimized seating
  • Sensory tools 

Use visual cues

People with autism commonly think in pictures. Visual support can be a simple accommodation for autism spectrum disorder. 

Using a daily schedule and monthly calendars with visual cues may help reduce anxiety for students with autism by allowing them to understand what is coming next better than a written schedule alone. 

Teachers can also use visual flashcards for common tasks. For example, a flashcard can be used to identify the current subject being taught or that it is time for a break. 

Take breaks

All students can benefit from an opportunity to take a break. Exercise breaks give students a chance to give their brains a rest, get their blood moving, and get ready for the next lesson. 

A break in a sensory retreat can be especially helpful for students with autism, who can feel overwhelmed by the amount of sensory input they receive while in class. Studies show that access to a visual-sensory-based quiet room can decrease unwanted behavior in stressful situations like school. 

A sensory retreat should:

  • Have dim lights
  • Have a simple visual palette 
  • Be soft and comforting

Model appropriate behavior

Modeling appropriate behavior is helpful in any classroom and is not just a modification for students with autism. Fostering a welcoming environment that teaches understanding and acceptance can go a long way in providing opportunities to develop social interaction skills. 

Another common strategy is to pair students with positive role models and allow time for students to work in small groups. 

A small but impactful modification for students with autism is to use positive instruction instead of negative instruction by minimizing words like “don’t” and “stop.” An example of using positive instruction is saying “please sit down” instead of “don’t stand up.”

Incorporate alternate media

Students with autism may have different learning styles

Visual learners benefit most from: 

  • Written media 
  • Videos  
  • Pictures 

Auditory learners benefit most from: 

  • Recordings of written material 
  • Conversations 
  • Role-playing  

Tactile learners benefit most from: 

  • Projects  
  • Games 
  • Building 
  • Experiments 

Whenever possible, teachers should provide alternate instruction in the method that best suits the child’s learning style. For example, after verbal instruction, a visual learner may require additional pictures or videos to understand. 

Use assistive technology

Assistive technology (AT) can help include a student with ASD by supporting and enhancing the student’s communication and functional capabilities. 

Low-tech AT includes anything that does not require electricity, such as: 

  • Stress balls 
  • Weighted vests
  • Picture boards 

Mid-tech AT is easy to operate and usually inexpensive, including: 

  • Sensory toys
  • Videos
  • Visual timers

High-tech AT is the most complex and includes digital media like: 

  • Robots
  • Communication technology for non-verbal people 
  • Electronic aids to daily living

Classroom aides

A one-to-one aide, also known as an education support professional (ESP), is assigned to just one student. They assist the student with various tasks to maximize independence. 

An ESP can assist students with many tasks, including:

  • Learning social skills
  • Transitioning between locations
  • Staying on task
  • Encouraging group play
  • Reducing challenging behavior
  • Completing tasks of daily living

Workplace accommodations for autism

As students transition out of school and into the workplace, they can take many of the same classroom accommodations and adapt them to the workplace. Common workplace accommodations for autism are:

  • Noise canceling headphones or earplugs
  • Dim lights
  • Sitting in a quieter part of the office, away from foot traffic
  • Extra time to process information
  • Peer mentors

Conclusion

There are many classroom accommodations for students with ASD. Finding the best and most appropriate interventions is a collaboration between the student, caregivers, teachers, and the school district. 

‍Songbird Therapy is a technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them.

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