In a school classroom, mainstream or otherwise, you will find a wide mix of children, all with differing sensory needs. Some may be sensory seekers and others sensory avoiders. Their learning styles and abilities will also vary. So is there a way of decreasing anxiety and making a classroom inclusive for all these children without making anyone feel singled out? Here are ten brilliant ideas to try:
1.Take frequent breaks
How about incorporating frequent timed breaks into your lessons. Often children will be able to concentrate better for shorter periods of time with short breaks in between. The breaks don’t have to be anything especially disruptive but stopping every 20-40 minutes to stand up, turnaround and shake your hands and feet, or walk around the classroom may help a lot of children.
Some children can not sit still for long periods so consider having movement breaks or making it ok to work standing up or sat on the floor at certain times throughout the day.
3. Have a routine and stick to it
Having a very clear routine will help children know what to expect and what comes next. Keep the timings of breaks, lessons and activities consistent so children get used to the daily routine. You could even have a visual timer at the front of the room so children can see how long is left of each activity. Consider sending a timetable for the week home with children so they come to school knowing what to expect each day and their parents can help prepare them.
4. Visual timetables
Having a visual timetable for the day at the front of the classroom is one way to help children know what to expect each day. This is a series of pictures and words that tell the children the order of the day. You can go through the timetable at the beginning of the morning and afternoon sessions as a reminder and refer to it every time there is a transition between activities and breaks. Consider each child having their own timetable on their desk with tick boxes so they can tick off each thing as they go along.
5. Feelings cards
This simple idea can be an extremely helpful tool when you have a lot of children in a class. Let each child have a card on the corner of their desk. On one side it will be green and the other, red. These are simple to make by sticking two pieces of card together and cutting into smaller rectangles. You can draw a smiley face on the green side and a sad face on the red side and if you have a laminator, laminate them so they last longer. Encourage the children to use the cards by turning them to green if they are feeling calm, happy and understand what they are doing and red if they are stressed, sad or need some help. Keep an eye out so you can help children with a red card, either with their work or to direct them to a safe place to calm down and have a break.
Please note that some children will not be at a stage where they are able to recognise their own feelings. They may not recognise the feeling of becoming overwhelmed or stressed until it is too late. You can use the cards to gradually teach them how by helping them choose the right colour throughout the day. Don’t expect them to understand quickly as recognising feelings can be extremely difficult, regardless of age. Similarly children may not be able to communicate their feelings so you can not expect them to be able to tell you when you ask.
6. Use additional methods for all children
Too often autistic children and those with sensory processing difficulties will feel singled out at school. They may be embarrassed to use methods put in place to help them incase others think they are different. Instead of giving one child a visual timetable, give everyone one. Instead of giving one child ear defenders or fidget toys, have a box of both for all children to help themselves if they need them. The methods in this article won’t harm any child, in fact you may find they help every child regardless of additional needs.
7. Consider the environment
Try to have as much natural light as you can in the room. Maintain the temperature to be comfortable. Think about clearing clutter and resisting the temptation to hang things everywhere and plaster the walls in work. Keeping your displays so they make sense and aren’t overpowering will help children not to feel overwhelmed or distracted by their environment. Don’t change the wall displays too often and when you do, do it gradually and warn the children it will be happening and what you plan to do. Let them help if you can. Keep furniture in the same place and don’t move people around without prior preparation. Think about how even the smallest of changes can affect some children and that you will need to prepare children before you even re-home the pen pots.
8. Create a safe space to escape to
Create, within the classroom or outside of the classroom if you are able, a quiet safe area to escape to. Maybe a corner of the room or a large cupboard which can be cleared would work. If you have nothing else then making a comfy den under some tables could be an idea.
Putting a couple of beanbags or cushions and a couple of cuddly friends would be a good start or if you are feeling inventive it is possible to make an inexpensive sensory space. If you can’t create a sensory space then have a sensory box in the safe area. The box could contain sensory items such as stretchy elastic, fiddle toys, small light up toys, textured cloth or puzzles.
9. Alternative working methods
Have alternatives for some lessons. For literacy could children type instead of write? Maybe consider a variety of different pens and pencils to choose from or different coloured paper. Also consider incorporating sensory play or outdoor learning into the school day.
10 . Clear step by step instructions
Think about the instructions you are going to give and the way you say them. Acknowledge that some children won’t get past the first instruction you say so consider giving visual reminders if there is more than one thing to think about. Some children have a very literal understanding of language so consider carefully if what you are saying could confuse or even be taken to mean something different.
Children with demand avoidant traits or PDA:
These children will need a lot of patience and understanding. They can become very anxious if they feel they have demands put upon them and will need to be offered choices to help them feel more in control and able to learn. The methods above may not always be helpful for these children. There are methods that will help, changing the way you say things for instance, so instead of saying “now you need to do…” You could consider saying “maybe you could try this next?” Or offering a choice between two activities or methods of doing the class activity.
There are many ideas for creating an autism friendly, all inclusive classroom and these are just a few to start you off. If you have any other ideas or tried and tested methods of your own, we would love to hear them. Please share them with us in the comments!
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