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Consider the space: sensory considerations for children on the autism spectrum

When setting up a classroom or workspace that children with sensory processing challenges will be using, it is important to consider the sensory stimuli in the room. All stimuli in the room has the potential to take away from the child's ability to focus on the lesson, directions, or requests being asked.

To reduce visual stimuli, avoid hanging items on walls. If items must be hung on the wall make them as simple as possible and avoid visual complexity (multiple colors, patterns, images). Items hanging from the ceiling are especially distracting as they move.

If possible, utilize room dividers to decrease visual stimuli and create contained and visually simplified workspaces.

When considering auditory stimuli sit quietly in the space and notice what you can hear. Is there a loud fan? Can this fan be swapped out for a quieter fan? Can you hear the ticking of the clock? If you can hear it, most likely this sound is much louder and much more distracting to your student on the autism spectrum. If possible, swap this out for a silent clock as this ticking can compete with important directions or requests and may limit a child's ability to show what they know. What other sounds do you hear? Does the door squeak?

A room with a carpet helps absorb sound and in especially large rooms it can be helpful to put cloth or felt over cabinets and shelves to help absorb sounds. These coverings should be simple without patterns so that the room does not become visually busy.

When adults are speaking in the room this can also be a very distracting auditory stimuli. There are times when it is necessary for teachers and classroom staff to discuss something at that very moment. Any information that can be passed on either by jotting down a note that can be shared later or a topic that can be discussed without students present should be shared in that manner. Even if the conversation is happening on the other side of the classroom it adds extra auditory stimuli can take a child's attention away from the task on hand. Conversations about students should never occur in front of students, auditory stimuli aside.

Lastly, are there any noticeable smells in the room? Be sure that staff do not wear perfume to work or strongly scented lotions.

When the classroom or workspace is set up with these considerations it creates a space where children with autism spectrum disorders can do their best learning and have the opportunity to have their attention fully on the task or subject at hand.

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