According to a Global News Article, 1 in 66 children in Canada is born with autism. With numbers like these, it is clear that supporting autism in classrooms is necessary. Although Ontario school boards must provide accessibility training, there is still more work to be done. As well, teachers need to be mindful of including all abilities when planning their lessons. This article explores a few different methods that can assist teachers and support staff in supporting students with autism in classrooms.
Helping students with autism in classrooms may include the use of:
- Rifton chairs
- Weighted blankets and vests
- Sensory rooms and toys
Supporting Autism in Classrooms using Rifton Chairs
A Rifton chair is a chair that has safety straps. Rifton chairs help autistic students take part in activities without becoming a danger to themselves or a distraction to others. Kids with sensory needs struggle to sit for long periods of time. They may be able to sit for longer periods if they feel secure.
The Rifton chair is a vital classroom safety feature and learning aid for autistic students who:
- Are very active
- Struggle with balance and coordination
- Will run away
- Repeat motions
- Flap hands
Supporting Autism in Classrooms using Strollers
Strollers have many of the same calming properties as Rifton chairs. Strollers ensure that autistic students can join outings, such as field trips and outdoor learning. While strollers may be useful in class, they give students and support staff a way to get out of the classroom for breaks. This can be helpful if the class is going to start an activity that is triggering for the student, such as music class. Also, strollers provide a safe and secure way for autistic students to engage with the school community outside of the classroom. Moreover, strollers keep the student secure and reduce the risk of running away.
Supporting Autism in Classrooms using Weighted Blankets and Vests
A weighted blanket is a blanket that uses heavy disc inserts or glass beads to make it weigh more. A weighted vest follows the same principle but is wearable.
Weighted blankets have a calming effect on users. They are useful for helping autism in classrooms because they:
- Decrease anxiety
- Increase focus
- Decrease instances of stimming or meltdown
A weighted vest may also be included into a routine for guiding a transition, such as:
- Leaving the classroom to go out for recess
- Moving between rooms, for example, libraries, computer labs, the gym, and the classroom.
Students are alerted that a transition is about to occur when they see and don the weighted vest. This will make the move easier for both the student and support staff alike.
Supporting Autism in Classrooms using Sensory Rooms and Toys
A sensory room provides a soothing and stimulating environment for students with autism and other disabilities. Sensory rooms feature:
- Unique and different forms of lighting
- Sensory toys
- Sensory objects affixed to walls and floors (for instance, different textures and colours, rugs, mats, mobiles, etc.)
- A mixture of seating designed to provide different sensory effects (for example, Rifton chairs, bean bag chairs, hammocks, etc.)
- A range of colours and visual aids (for instance, pictures, posters, shapes, etc.)
Sensory toys are hand-held objects that offer various sensory effects by using unique textures and colours.
Also, they have the ability to:
- Be wet or dry
- Have lights
- Have spinning or moving pieces
Also included in sensory toys is chewellery, which is:
- Safe to chew on
- Wearable jewelry
Some students are orally fixated. Chewellery can help to ensure that they do not put anything in their mouths that should not be there.
Sometimes classrooms can get very busy and hard for students with autism to manage. Thus, sensory rooms can be a way to deal with heightened emotions during the school day. Sensory toys are useful for helping students with autism in classrooms because they can help students stay stimulated without having to leave the classroom, which promotes inclusivity.
Understanding the Needs of Students with Autism
Understanding how each option can help is the key to successfully supporting autism in the classroom. Furthermore, it is vital to select the best method for each student. Sensory rooms and weighted vests work for some students, but no solution works for everyone when it comes to supporting autism in the classroom.