Enviromental Changes in the Classroom
I am certainly not going to suggest having every student in a classroom all by himself or herself. Here are a few simple recommendations for sensory integration problems.
- Reduce the number of visual materials in the room. Take down mobiles and other hanging visual aids. Reduce the number of posters.
- Put manipulatives in storage bins so that there are not many,many colorful shapes of all sizes around the room.
- Let the student sit in a chair facing the wall when he wants. Don’t make it a punishment. Just make it an option. Some schools have a “quiet corner”, with a bean bag chair in a corner away from everyone and with very little around it. Children can go sit in the quiet chair whenever they want. Sometimes a child without Autism just needs some quiet, too. (No, the quiet chair is not for teachers – nice try, though.)
- Have a regular routine so it is easier for the child to predict what happens next.
A good resource for more information on sensory integration problems and classroom changes can be found on the Indiana Resource Center for Autism site.
Changing the environment for other characteristics of Autism
Children with Autism have more problems than sensory integration. Below are a few examples:
1. Because children with autism have not learned these fears the family must be careful to keep knives away, watch for traffic and other common hazards that other children will ‘naturally’ avoid. Drawers where knives are kept and doors to cabinets where poisonous chemicals are kept should all have child safety latches. This is a recommended precaution for all homes with young, curious children, but these safety features will be required until a much older age for children with autism than is usual for children without disabilities.
2. Doors need to be kept locked to prevent the child wandering away. For safety, it is recommended to install locks high up on the door out of the child’s reach. Parents and other caregivers need to be much more vigilant about repeatedly checking where the child is.
3. Try to maintain a routine. Remember the scene in the movie, “Rain Man”, where the brother with autism starts rocking and screaming because it is 3 p.m. and he must see cartoons?
One reason some researchers believe that children with autism desire routine is they have difficulty creating categories and generalizing. They have to learn from personal experience, not from talking to other people, and each experience is unique. So, a child who learns a black bull is to be stayed away from would not necessarily transfer that lesson to a brown bull. When shown a picture of a bull in a book, or a toy bull, he would not connect those in any way with that big huge scary thing out in the pasture. Because each new experience has to be learned about directly, change is much harder for children with autism.