To create a departure point for the “perfect” classroom for students on the autism spectrum as well as with learning and/or physical disabilities.
The development of The Guiding Design Principals for the Ideal Classroom for Students with Autism:
- Simplicity and Clarity: Every element and every surface should serve to advance learning. The ambiance should be welcoming, calming, re-assuring and comfortable. Storage should be enclosed and displays should be minimal and purposeful. The visual cacophony of the average classroom does not work for most with autism, ADD or ADHD.
- Attention to the senses and sensory processing: There are many ways to create a physical environment that minimizes sensory distractions for all. Dampening the acoustics is critical. Equally critical are effective lighting sources that are adjustable (color temperature) and dimmable for the student’s preferences and tasks at hand. We all know the torture of flickering fluorescents and the hum of aging ballasts.
- Transitions and Circulation: Providing a transition zone between the classroom and the corridor is just one way to allow students to process their environment. Wide corridors and comfortably sized classrooms allow for large, often involuntary movements and limit the likelihood of the discomfort of bumping into others. Long, straight corridors should be avoided as they can enable bolting. Landmarks reinforce wayfinding and help establish neighborhoods.
- Choice and Ergonomics: Students need choice in order to feel validated and to become thoroughly engaged. Each student’s work space should be furnished with items that fit the student’s body type and size, abilities and disabilities, as well as learning style.
- Sustainability: Green principals should be followed by using authenticated green products and materials (not “green washed”) and by employing sustainable building systems and operations. Most toxins in the environment can be eliminated. Many with autism have a range of allergies so clean air should be a goal.
- Connection to the out of doors/ nature: The positive psychological benefits of daylighting and views are well-documented.
- Communication and Social Interaction: These do not come naturally for many with autism. The introduction of the central table and chairs is important for group work and socialization. Small group gathering spaces off of the school’s circulation zones that can be programmed into the curriculum are useful and can also be assigned for specific special interests.
- Ease of Use: Materials should be durable, easily cleaned, and yet not clinical. An adjacent restroom is important for ease of access and to minimize anxiety. A quiet room for one-on-one interaction can also serve as a “time out” space to allow students to remove themselves from the group to maintain balance and re-group.