Autism is a developmental disorder that impacts the brain's communication and social functioning. Autism spectrum disorder is typically diagnosed in early childhood and can be a lifelong challenge. Children with special needs face special challenges in school and may find it difficult to interact socially, speak and learn new things. For these children it is important for the school to have a plan or protocol in place so that they enjoy the same educational opportunities that other students do.
Here are some things that the school can do to help them.
1. A quiet place to take a break and providing a quiet sensory room
Kids with autism and other sensory disorders need care during school too, and there are some specific accommodations that should be given to them. They can get overwhelmed by school, and that can lead to a meltdown. The best way to avoid this is to provide them with sensory breaks like being able to go to a quiet place to take a break. Moreover, they might need to use a room as a sensory room, which will have a dark, padded environment and special equipment to help them.
2. A separate test roomSchool can be hard on anyone but for children with special needs and autism, it can be downright scary. But there are ways to make school feel more welcoming and secure for them. Setting up a separate test room, which is just a room with a desk and a test that is tuned to the learning style of a child, can make a big difference. Kids with special needs and autism should always have a place where they feel comfortable and are safe - one without distractions. It's best for them because many of them are so sensitive to noises and have a difficult time paying attention. This makes them stressed out and unable to perform.
3. Clear guidance on expectations
The challenges of autism are many and generous contributions are needed to help those with autism and special needs to learn, excel and achieve. These children often find it much more difficult to understand what other kids are learning and to keep up. Make it clear to the child what his/her expectations are, what he/she'll be learning, and how much work he/she'll have to do. These children often struggle to keep up with their classmates because they have a harder time than the general population understanding what's being taught in school.
4. Grace for lateness and attendance
Our children should be given a little more leeway on lateness and attendance in school. School days are extremely difficult for children on the autism spectrum, because they often have a very different sense of time and can struggle to adjust to the routine, make a connection with the teacher, or stay inside the classroom for an extended period of time. Accommodations, modifications, and adjustments should be made to ensure they can be successful.
5. A space to stimIt's so important that kids with special needs, autism, and other disabilities get the best education possible. When it comes to education, schools should be focused on helping kids to develop their skills. Children on the autism spectrum often need time and space for stimming (self-stimulating). They tend to repeat a motion or rhythm to feel comfortable. This is called "stimming". It's important these kids have a space to stim. This can be a small corner with a pillow that they're allowed to take out the door with them. Some kids find that it calms them down and it gives them something to focus on.
6. Extended test time and also extra time to complete tasks
According to a study from the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, the academic performance of children with autism and other special needs is impacted by how much time they have to complete a task. It's important to make sure that, when it comes to completing tasks, children with special needs are given the time they need. And when it comes to tests, which are designed to assess what a child has learned, it’s also important to give them the time they need to show what they know. This extra time can be critical and provide an opportunity for success.
7. No fluorescent lighting and more of natural lightingMany schools have fluorescent lighting which can be harsh on children with autism and special needs. They need to be taught in an environment that will support their abilities, rather than just in a standard classroom. Bright lights can be too intense for these kids, and this bright light can trigger photosensitive seizures. The lighting in the school should be dimmer and less harsh to make learning easier since fluorescent lights tend to put on a lot of blue light which stimulates autistic people, whereas natural light does not.
8. Help make friends and develop social skills
Schools can be difficult for kids who have autism and other special needs. They often struggle to make friends and develop social skills which in turn impacts their mental health and their ability to learn. It’s important that these kids feel integrated and accepted in their classes. Without the opportunity to socialize and connect with others they may become more withdrawn and isolated, and develop resentment towards those around them, Schools can and should provide a safe space for children to make friends and learn how to communicate or show affection. Schools should offer specific programs for children on the autism spectrum in order to help them develop social skills and to get a head start in school.
9 Unscented cleaning products
A study shows that 4 out of 10 autistic children studied experienced moderate to severe anxiety from fragrances which led students to refuse to go to a school. Scented products, such as chemical cleaners, lotions, and painters, may be too stimulating and may have a negative effect on the person. In order to best accommodate children who are on the autism spectrum, schools should have as many scent-free products as possible. Children on the spectrum can be sensitive to odors that may interfere with sensory processing and cause sensory sensitivities.
10. Providing alternatives for gym class and library instead of playgroundChildren with autism and other disabilities not only can't physically handle gym class, but also have sensory sensitivities. Schools should provide students with special needs equal access to educational opportunities. This includes gym classes, which should instead be allowed to be replaced with other activities in the school library. For example, an exercise wheel can be used in school for a group exercise class instead of running laps on the track. The library is also a great on-campus location for physical activity, as it is less distracting and provides a quieter place to focus.
11. Noise cancellation headphones during exams or when doing individual work
Noise cancellation headphones are a great tool for children who have autism, who struggle with sensory input, and for children with special needs. Noise cancellation headphones can help them focus and pay attention to their studies. Providing these noise cancellation headphones during exams is a great way to help children who have a difficult time focusing. These headphones can be given even when the child is doing individual work because it makes it easier for them to concentrate and to work.
12. Teaching about neurodiversity to other children and teaching other children acceptance of autistic friends
Children with special needs are more likely to be bullied, which makes it hard for them to succeed academically. It’s important that schools work to teach all children about neurodiversity in order to promote acceptance and understanding of the children with special needs. Adults with autism are often tuned out and not heard, so it’s also important that neurotypical children are taught and made to understand that even though autistic children may be different, they can still be friends. Helping children to become more accepting of different people is just one way to try to help the stigma around these health conditions to disappear.
13. Teacher should be the child's advocate and can help track specific behaviors
Teachers are the best advocate for any child in their classroom. They should be able to track specific behaviors and collect specific evidence to pass on to the special education teacher. The special education teacher can use that information to make a compelling case for the school psychologist to start testing. Of course the teacher cannot give a diagnosis to the student’s parents because not only because a professional has not diagnosed the child, but because the revelation of autism can be traumatic. However, the teacher can stay objective, collect data, communicate with parents and the special education teacher and the student’s time at school is better because of it.
14. Sensory corners with strings and stim toys
Schools where children with autism and special needs do not have access to sensory corners and stim toys are leaving these children out. Visual and or tactile stimulation is vital for autistic kids. They need to engage with their environment through sensory stimming. When they do not get the sensory help they need, these children can become withdrawn and even have seizures. It is crucial that schools provide as many sensory tools and corners as possible. They should ideally have a sensory toy for every student.
15. Captions on videos
It’s a common misconception that children with autism have a low IQ or are just “slow learners.” These children often learn better when they are able to process information visually. Schools everywhere should have captions on videos on all devices. This would help children with autism and special needs study more effectively and help them learn to read and chance to learn. It gives them the chance to focus on the content of the video and what’s being said without being distracted.
16. Smaller class sizes
Smaller class sizes facilitates a more positive learning environment for children with autism because they're not overwhelmed by the social interactions and noise associated with a larger class size. A smaller class size also can give teachers more time to ensure they're taking care of the needs of the children in their class. Research has shown that autistic children require individualized attention and support. School resources, as well as classroom supplies, can often be compromised when there are too many children in the same classroom.
17. Provide Educational Support
Children with autism and special study needs should be given a personal class Coach to help them academically. Schools are required to create individualized education plans (IEPs) for special needs children, and there are a number of other possible factors that come into play when dealing with a child's education. Whether it is class size, access to resources, or needs met, the IEP allows children in these positions to have a one-on-one time with the school and reach their full potential.
18. Schools should not demand oral participation
Students with autism and other special needs should not be forced to compete in the same environment as those without special needs, specifically in school and other learning environments. These children don't learn in the same way as typical children. School is a place where they need to feel supported, and they need to be encouraged and not discouraged. A child with autism might find it overwhelming to have to stand in front of the whole class and read when it's not necessary. Reading out loud in a public setting can be terrifying and embarrassing and it can cause them to begin to fall behind.
19. Extra Support
Schools can be a challenging environment for children with autism and special needs. Children with some levels of autism spectrum disorder often find social interaction stressful. Schools need to provide extra support staff who can help with social interactions. Another key element for children with autism is toileting - a school should employ someone who’s skilled at assisting children during toileting needs. It can also help to have someone to assist children with mobility as well.
20. Visual aids and Sensory Tools
Children with autism benefit from learning in schools that utilize visual timetables, visuals, and other sensory tools in order to help them better understand what is expected of them and to help them to better process abstract concepts. Schools that specialize in teaching children with autism should provide these children with extra sensory supports that will help them better control themselves in a crowded and stimulating environment. Visualized timetables are a great way to help children with autism to understand the expectations that have been set before they even take action. These visual aids can also be beneficial in reducing the likelihood of meltdowns and more serious regression, which can be triggered by sensory overload.
21. A Mentor
These schools should also ensure that the child has an assigned mentor or mentor figure that is actively involved in the child\'s day-to-day life, because a child with autism will often feel very isolated. This person will need to be in touch with the child\'s parents on a regular basis, because they could be the only person that the child will have a one-on-one connection with. Mentors will be a huge help in identifying any needs that they have and can also be a great help in promoting social skills in these children.
22. Avoid labelling
Children with autism need to be understood and accepted for who they are, not placed in a box. Labelling a child as naughty, lazy or stupid is not what schools should be doing; they should understand each child's individual needs and acting accordingly. Great teachers understand that, if children are required to learn in different ways, they may also behave differently. Giving them a voice and talking to them in a way that makes them feel listened to and understood is important.
23. Structured routine and seating plan
Schools should be aware of the different needs of someone with autism. This means that they should have all the resources and that there are no unexpected surprises for the pupil. A lack of routine and structure is never a good thing. To create a structured seating plan in the classroom, you’ll need to set up a class seating chart. The school routine should be very visual, predictable and easy for the child to understand.
24. No pop quizzes
One thing many schools might not realize is that if they have surprise tests or pop quizzes, they’re putting their students with autism under a lot of stress. This kind of stress is often an obstacle for children with autism. When they study for an exam, they need to know exactly when it is before they start the process. A pop quizzes will cause the child's anxiety go through the roof and shut them down.
25. A personalized and tailored plan
At a lot of schools, children with autism are struggling to fit in and succeed. Schools that are more conscientious when it comes to working with children with autism will allow them to work at their own pace and will ensure that they’re getting an education suited to their needs. A personalized and tailored plan where they are allowed to learn freely and to work on their own projects will ensure that they explore their interests, flourish and have a renewed sense of enthusiasm for school.
26. No eye contact
The National Autistic Society found that eye contact may be a significant factor in triggering distress for autistic children, as many children with autism feel anxious when forced to make eye contact. When the kids at one school in Leicester were forced to make eye contact for a minute, there was a significant rise in their heart rates. Schools should not force kids to make eye contact because it can be overwhelming for them.
27. Shouldn't compare atypical and natural behaviors to the behavior of neurotypical kids
School is a place where children blend in with other children and develop skills in an environment that's conducive to their success. Any behavior that is an indication of a disability shouldn’t be compared to the behavior of neurotypical children. The standard should be determined by the behavior of the child. Teachers can make accommodations to help the child work at the level that suits their needs and not compare their atypical and natural behaviors to the behavior of neurotypical kids. Schools should work to acknowledge and celebrate all the differences between people.
28. Anti Bullying
Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other special needs are different and makes them more susceptible to bullying - study after study and poll after poll shows bullying is a prevalent problem. And unsurprisingly, this can have a detrimental effect on their mental health and academic performance. Schools need to implement a strict anti-bullying policy and having a prevention plan in place. Teachers and other adults need to be on the lookout for kids who are being victimized by their friends.
29. Help them break down big tasks
There’s never been a more crucial time for schools where children with autism and special needs study. As the world becomes more competitive and people are expected to work more efficiently, it becomes more important than ever to provide the right accommodations for children with autism and other special needs. Whether it’s providing special areas for children to work or allowing some time for bigger tasks, it’s important for school to provide the necessary accommodations for children with special needs. Schools should have well-chosen curriculums where the child can learn at their own pace and break big tasks into smaller chunks.
Conclusion:Schools should be doing everything they can to make children with Autism and special needs feel safe and included. Autistic children should have the opportunity to learn in a safe environment where they can continue to progress. They need to be given every chance possible to make healthy and special friendships. Teaching kids with Autism and special needs also comes with its fair share of challenges, so they need schools that adapt accordingly. Schools should provide not just a safe environment, but about providing a supportive environment to encourage their progress and help them thrive.
If you think we missed anything, please feel free to comment below.
By the way things like Special Needs Trust, Estate Planning, Having a last will and Testament are extremely important if you have a child with Autism and Special Needs. If you haven’t got down to getting these things in place and you need more information, an excellent book to check out is “What will happen to my Special Needs Child When I am Gone?“ by Susan Jules. It is available as an eBook on our website and as a paperback on Amazon