How to set up an Autism Class

As an Occupational Therapist (OT), I've had the privilege of working closely with Autistic children and their families. Supporting their transition to school and educating school teams has become a massive part of my role to ensure that learning in the school environment can be a positive experience. It's an area we focus on hugely in our CPD Plans for schools.

There are many schools opening Autism Classes, but many teachers and support staff feel they don't know how to set up an Autism Class or support the children within it.
Below are a 5 key points that are important for all principals and educators to consider when opening an Autism Class within a mainstream school environment.
How to set up an Autism Class

1. Comprehensive Student Support Plans: Each student has unique needs, strengths and sensory differences which can impact on their learning. Prior to creating these plans, teachers should have time to focus on building a relationship with each student and getting to know them through observation and positive interactions. These plans should address academic, sensory, emotional and play goals, with input from educators, therapists, and parents.
2. Creating a Sensory Informed Classroom: Prior to the students starting in school, getting advice from an OT and how to utilise the space effectively is essential along with what equipment, sensory tools etc should be purchased for the space. Autistic students frequently have sensory differences that can impact on their regulation and ability to learn. Designing the classroom environment with sensory considerations in mind is key. It's important to think about appropriate lighting, noise levels, considering safety, seating options and designated areas for movement, calming or quiet time when opening an Autism Class in a school.
Supporting children and teachers in an Autism Class, How to set one up
3. Continued Professional Development: The area of neurodiversity is continually evolving, and it's essential for educators to stay updated on the latest research, best practices, and interventions. Offering regular professional development opportunities like what we offer with our CPD Plans, ensures that staff members feel equipped with the knowledge and skills to provide high-quality support to their students especially relating to managing sensory, emotional and behavioural needs and utilising a strengths based lens in an Autism Class.
4. Parental Involvement: Parents are the experts of their children and establishing open communication channels from the beginning is key to fostering a mutual and trusting relationship. Parents can also offer advice on what works and doesn’t work for their child in terms of sensory input and what interests can be utilised in school to support engagement. By involving parents in goal-setting and decision-making processes it empower families to be active participants in their child's education journey.
5. Multi-disciplinary Team Approach: Collaboration is key. A multi-disciplinary team comprising teachers, occupational therapists, speech-language therapists and other professionals should work together to provide holistic support to students. Regular collaboration provides time to reflect on what’s working, what needs to change, sharing of knowledge and general growth. Gabadoo provides schools with Occupational Therapy and Speech and Language Therapy consultancy and has proven to be a crucial support to educators, particularly those working in an Autism Class.
Supporting children and teachers in an Autism Class, How to set one up

Setting up an Autism Class in a school requires careful planning, collaboration, and ongoing dedication. By incorporating these five essential components when opening an Autism Class, educators and therapists can create a nurturing and inclusive learning environment for students.
If you would like to take part in regular training for your staff, you can book in for a free call to learn more - Book a Call

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