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Creating an Inclusive Classroom: Insights from the Autistic Teacher

Education is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. It has the potential to transform lives, empower individuals, and shape the future. Every child is unique, with their own learning style, strengths, and needs. This is especially true for neurodivergent children who may require a different approach to learning and support. As an autistic teacher, I am here to share my insights on how to create an inclusive classroom that caters to the individual needs of all students.


The Importance of Seating

Where a child sits in a classroom can greatly impact their learning process. Certain sensory needs or physical disabilities may require children to be seated in specific areas of the room. For instance, children who are sensitive to sunlight or heat should be seated away from windows or radiators. Moreover, the seats themselves should also be varied according to individual needs. We can use chair bands, wobble cushions, wiggle seats, and bean bags to cater for the sensory feedback and movement needed.


Adapting the Environment

Classrooms need to be adaptable to meet the various needs of neurodivergent pupils. Many of these pupils struggle with interoception, which can affect their sensitivity to heat and their ability to regulate body temperature. Therefore, ventilation is crucial. Classroom displays should be designed with care. If they are too bright or busy, they can overwhelm some children. A happy medium is best where possible. Blinds can be used to prevent glare, especially in classrooms with a lot of glass.


Integrating Technology

While I may not be a tech guru, I do understand the immense value technology brings to the classroom. There are numerous programmes and built-in assistive technologies available to support students who are dyslexic, dyspraxic, visually impaired, and so on. Importantly, these resources should not be limited to diagnosed children as others may also benefit from them. So, let's utilize the technology available to us to its fullest potential.


Providing Quiet and Safe Spaces

Classrooms can sometimes be busy and noisy. Hence, it's essential to offer a quiet space where children can regulate or take some time to recover. Some children might prefer to work alone and might perform better at their own table or workstation. Even working under the desk can be more comfortable for some.


Using Ear Defenders

Ear defenders can be a useful tool in the classroom. They can offer a reprieve from noise, and it's often interesting to see who benefits from them! You could also consider noise reduction headphones with calming music. For older children, ear loops could be a good option.


Implementing Break Cards and Exit Cards

Break cards and exit cards can be handed out by the teacher as preventative measures when a child is becoming 'fizzy'. Sending students on important jobs can give them a much-needed movement break and some time out of the classroom to regulate. As they get older, we can encourage self-management and regulation by allowing them to use an exit card and a designated place to go.


Allowing Thinking Time

Some children need longer to process information and questions. Building in thinking time can be beneficial for them. Advance notice of questions can ease anxiety for some, while it might induce it in others. Knowing your students well is crucial. Using small whiteboard responses can also help, as answers do not need to be verbalized, reducing anxiety.


Providing Support from the Side

Neurodivergent children can find face-on support difficult. Always consider this when giving extra support. Do not demand eye contact, and try coming alongside rather than in front, which might be more comfortable for the student.


Incorporating Movement Breaks

Movement breaks and brain breaks are essential for all students. I struggle to sit for long periods, so I can’t expect a child to! Some children learn better when they are moving around. Those that need extra movement breaks might benefit from a sensory trail with jumping and stretching too.


Communication

We all communicate in different ways and all ways should be valid. Some students may respond better to sign language or using picture cards. A visual timetable can be a good way to inform and remind children what is happening next and reduce anxiety. Some children may struggle with auditory processing and find themselves overwhelmed by noise and words. As a younger child I was situational mute. Anxiety can play a big part in communication. Be patient and allow communication in different forms. All communication is valid.


An inclusive Classroom

Having an inclusive Classroom is all about meeting the needs of individuals. The most crucial thing is to get to know your students in order to build relationship, trust and know their needs in order to support them to reach their potential.


Written by The Autistic Teacher

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