Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Setting Up My Autism Class- Step 2: Setting up Physical Structure

I learned that physical structure is key when working with individuals with Autism pretty quickly. I remember walking into the first Autism class I had ever been in when I was a sophomore in college and seeing all of the bookshelves, dividers, and crates that were used to separate everything. I think the OCD part of myself is secretly drawn to the organization and the idea of there being a place for everything. Fast forward ten years and going on 6 years of teaching and I am setting up my 3rd Autism classroom. My first and second classrooms that I set up for the same population of kids were complete different because I had a different set of kids each time, a different physical classroom, and different resources. I know that my current room will turn out completely different as well. Just like the saying "No two children with Autism are alike"- I guess no two classrooms for children with autism are alike!

When I started teaching children with autism, we had very little resources. I had to get creative with sheets and cardboard. I am very excited to share that this is not the case this go around! I was thrilled to see that I have bookshelves, fancy schmancy dividers, and even adorable rugs to section the room off. Armed with my mental organization about my new group and my plan for 7 centers, I got busy with my new paras. A lot of people prefer to draw out a picture of the room and label the different areas before moving furniture. For some reason, this does not appeal to me. I have to actually see the furniture in the spot to decide if that is where it belongs.

Step 2-Setting up Physical Structure
1. Draw It Out
2. Get busy! Take advantage of the shape of the room & furniture.
3. Try again!

Reading/Sensory Center

I started the arranging with my reading/sensory center. The class had this great little bench that they used in their reading area before & I was able to use my little bookshelf next to it to create a barrier. There is another small book shelf not pictured on the left side wall that holds the sensory items- fidget toys, vibrating animals, and rainmakers.

Leisure Center

The back of the reading bench forms a little desk area. The paras told me that they used this area for the little DVD players that the kids loved. I added two chairs and voila- the leisure center is ready!

Play Center

Usually each classroom is set up with 4 computers under the pod windows. Since I won't need that many computers, I was able to set up a bookshelf next to where the computer table will sit and turn the rest of the space between the bookshelf and the storage cabinets into the play center. I think having a play center with this group is very important- they will still be learning how to appropriately play with toys & we'll do a lot of structured playing together. Plus it's a great opportunity to work on playing cooperatively with peers. I'll discuss how I organized the play center in another post. Sorting through the tons and tons of toys was probably the most overwhelming part of setting up my new room but I was able to make it work and am really happy with how it turned out.

Table Time
I knew that I wanted to place the large area rug in front of the smart board for circle time activities & I wanted a table nearby in case we did some whole group craft, coloring, or tracing activities during that time. I decided to place two bookshelves directly behind the table to house all of the work tasks that will be used during table time. As the students rotate around the room, two of them will be working on individual work tasks with one of the paras. These tasks will be anything from simple fine motor tasks [drop the block in the container] to color and shape matching. I plan to cover the shelves with fabric so that it won't be so distracting for my kids. I added these great dividers on each side to cut down on distractions for the kids.

Work Station
The back of the table time bookshelves provided a wall that was perfect for two work stations for my higher functioning kids. I used my TEACCH training to design a left-to-right work station for independent tasks. The Autism Specialist left these four-shelf containers behind and I used them to create a barrier on the left side of each work station. I will place 4 activities in those containers for the students to complete. When they complete each task, they will place it in the "finished" basket that is on their right. I'm thinking that the work station on the left will be just for file folder type interactive work and the work station on the right will be more for adaptive/functional tasks. Higher functioning students will use both work stations.

I don't have a picture of my last two centers- computer and listening. The computers for my room are not set up yet and won't be until closer to the start of school. I'm still playing around with the location of my listening center but I will update with a picture of it as soon as I decide. I'm currently teaching ESY in this room so I am sure that I will make some changes once the kids show me what areas are working and which are not working. Like I keep saying, it's important for me to be flexible and be up for making changes based on my kiddo's needs. I also hope to post some pictures of my co-workers room. She teachers the older kids with Autism and I just helped her set her room up a few weeks ago. I think it is a great example of how to set up a room for kids that are focusing more on academics rather than the readiness skills that I will be focusing on. My next post will be on setting up the visual structure of my new room. Stay tuned!

{View from Classroom Door}

{View from Reading/Sensory Center}


  1. I just got my first AU position! I normally teach resource sped, so I am super nervous! This post and I'm sure so many others will help me out tremendously!

    1. Mrs. Dixon- Congrats on your new position! I hope you love it as much as I do. I'm glad that my blog has been helpful. Good luck this year!

  2. What company makes your room dividers?

    1. They are from Lakeshore. You can find them here: http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp?productItemID=1689949371896708&utm_source=google&utm_medium=ppc&utm_campaign=PLA&CAWELAID=520011010000001575&CAGPSPN=pla&catargetid=520011010000029747&cadevice=c&gclid=Cj0KEQiA5K-kBRDZ9r71gOvlxOMBEiQAwkK52KxgpqntEaCyV_JAr2YkgarQ-6J3M_E0M1aHDCcDsF0aAjY_8P8HAQ