Inclusion in the Classroom
Creating an autism-friendly learning environment

Inclusion in the Classroom

Learners with autism often display rigidity in their thinking and behavior, which in turn can have a profound effect on their learning. This may be seen is some of the following:

  • Difficulty in problem solving, based on challenges with abstract thinking and difficulty attending to relevant aspects
  • They may have rote memory, and so may know many things by rote and can list many facts, but with little comprehension
  • Difficulty with generalising skills
  • Difficulty with open-ended questions
  • A great deal of behaviour is triggered by the environment


Creating an autism-friendly learning environment:


  • Make sure you have the learner’s attention before giving instructions
  • Use simple, clear, DIRECT language.
  • Allow for processing time (people with autism take longer to process information than typical learners)
  • Slow down
  • As much as possible, use activities, demonstrations and visual stimuli to teach concepts. People with autism are VISUAL learners, so they learn through what they see and experience

Child’s Own Communication:

  • Allow learner to use other methods to communicate their understanding, for example pictures, objects, etc.
  • Use closed-ended questions rather than open-ended ones

Social Skills:

  • Teach private versus public property
  • Use visual prompts
  • Teach personal space (you can use arms length as visual cue)

Social Skills and Flexible Thinking:

  • Have consistent, explicit classroom rules
  • Use social stories to explain rules and expected behaviour
  • Prepare the learner if change is going to occur in their routine
  • Use visual time tables (e.g. pictures) – at eye level
  • Have clear rules and consequences
  • Use visual aids (pictures) to teach emotion (theirs and others)

New Concepts and Skills:

  • First teach using concrete examples
  • Relate to learner’s experiences and use his/her interests
  • Teach skills in all possible contexts: generalise
  • Use various methods – MULTISENSORY teaching

Sensory Perceptions:

  • Learners with autism may display resistance to certain activities
    • Prepare them for change
    • Introduce new sensations gradually
    • Provide other options if need be
    • Use the learner’s interests


  • Create a distraction-free environment as much as possible
  • Reduce social demands while learning
  • Allow time-out if over stimulated

Play Skills:

  • Focus on play skills e.g. turn-taking, negotiation, etc.
  • Simplify rules
  • Create a circle of friends / buddy system

Playtime and Playground Difficulties:

  • Often we find that the challenges the learner experiences in the classroom become more prominent on the playground. This is because to survive the playground, one needs social, communicative and imaginative skills
  • Unstructured time often results in anxiety and intimidation
  • Some learners may find it hard to follow the social rules of the playground
  • They also need communication and social skills to initiate games:
    • The learner may snatch another child’s toy to start a chasing game
    • Unpredictable = rigid rule-following
  • They may choose to play alone

Making Play Ground Easier:

  • Friends or mentors can be trained and be given the responsibility of watching out for learners who need support. They can also assist in playground discipline
  • Create opportunities for engaging: group activities (structured)
  • Create the buddy system: choose free-time buddies to be with the learner who has autism. Limit the number to 5 or 6 buddies
  • Have a friendship stop: a sign/bench/area where learners can stand if they have no one to play with. Mentors would then fetch the learner and invite them to play
  • Create lunch time clubs. These are quiet areas with structured activities/ hobbies that learners can engage in during free time