How to create a comfortable accommodation in the classroom?

     by Diversamente

In a bustling classroom, addressing the diverse learning needs of all students can be overwhelming and complicated. It can be even more daunting when you are also tasked with implementing instructional accommodations and modifications in the individualized educational programs (IEPs) of your students.

Here are the most important principles to remember when implementing accommodations and modifications for your students.

Keep in mind that accommodations and modifications are not interchangeable terms. An accommodation aims to alter how students access and learn the same material as their peers, without lowering the academic expectations. On the other hand, a modification involves changing and adjusting what students are taught or what is expected of them in terms of learning outcomes.

  • Daily schedules

Transitioning between tasks and activities can be challenging for students across the autism spectrum. Therefore, it is crucial to have a daily class schedule that outlines the different activity categories for the day. A detailed schedule will greatly assist with smooth transitions between the classroom, lunchroom, schoolyard, and other destinations throughout the day.


  • Sensory Aids

A significant percentage of children with autism (up to 95%) struggle with regulating their sensory system, commonly known as sensory processing disorder.

Therefore, sensory aids, or fidgets, can help alleviate the resulting stress and enhance focus for autistic children as they navigate a busy classroom environment.

Fidgets empower these children to self-regulate their emotions and stay on task, even when distractions compete for their attention. For many kids who engage in repetitive behaviours, having a fidget in hand or underfoot can help them manage their typical motions.

There are various types of sensory aids that are suitable for classrooms, such as stress balls, pencil toppers, tangle puzzles, clay, wiggle cushions, weighted lap pads, chair bands, and foot rollers. Since fidgets are enjoyable yet discreet, they can be made available to all students to prevent anyone from feeling singled out or left out.

  • Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who have an over-responsive tactile sense may exhibit negative emotional reactions to certain textures of solids and liquids, as well as intentional or accidental touch. These students may engage in sensory-avoidance behaviors towards people, situations, tasks, and activities that trigger anxiety (Killoran, 2004; Myles et al., 2000; Murray, et al., 2009). Providing preferential seating within the classroom, such as keeping distance from others who may inadvertently cause distressing touch, may be helpful for these learners (Murray, et al., 2009). When lining up for recess or other activities, educators can assign these students to the back or front of the line to minimize opportunities for unwelcome touch (Howe, et al., 2004; Killoran, 2004).

The principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) advocate for providing multiple tools for expression, communication, composition, and construction in inclusive classrooms (CAST, 2011).

  • For students with tactile over-responsiveness, educators may consider using tools instead of hands for craft and other messy activities in the classroom (Howe, et al., 2004). These tools can be beneficial for all students in inclusive classrooms, not just those with ASD.
  • Learners with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who are sensitive to sight and sound may become distracted by various stimuli in the classroom, such as buzzing or flashing fluorescent lights, excessive colours, noise from fans or air conditioners, clinking dishes from the cafeteria, or tapping sounds from outside (Friedlander, 2008; Howlin, 2005). To calm their nervous systems and reduce visual and auditory distractions, environmental accommodations in the classroom are necessary, such as eliminating extraneous noise and visual distractions (Case-Smith & Arbesman, 2008; Murray et al., 2009).
  • Research by Hochhauser and Engel-Yeger (2010) suggests that children with ASD who have high visual and auditory sensitivity may perform better in one-on-one settings rather than in groups, as it minimizes opportunities for visual and auditory distractions.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines emphasize the importance of providing options for self-regulation to facilitate personal coping skills and strategies for individuals with ASD (CAST, 2011).

  • One such strategy is Auditory Integration Training (AIT), which involves listening to electronically filtered music through earphones to remediate auditory hypersensitivities (Baranek, 2002; Case-Smith & Arbesman, 2008; Dawson & Watling, 2000). The recorded music is customized according to individual needs and can be kept in the classroom for use when sensory over-responsiveness peaks.

In addition, sound dampening accommodations such as placing tennis balls on chair legs, using floor carpeting, and using vent covers can be helpful in reducing background noises in the classroom (Myles et al., 2000; Murray et al., 2009; Yack et al., 2002).

  • Visual schedules can also assist learners who over-respond to stimuli in focusing their attention on the task at hand (Case-Smith & Arbesman, 2008; Humphrey, 2008). These environmental accommodations can benefit not only learners with ASD but also all learners in an inclusive classroom by minimizing sound and visual distractions.
  • For learners with vestibular sensitivities, providing secure seating options in the classroom is important due to their difficulties with balance. Instead of traditional seating, educators should consider alternative forms of seating, such as bean bag chairs that conform to the student’s body.
  • On the other hand, learners with ASD who are under-responsive to vestibular input may require regular opportunities for physical exercise and stimulation (Baranek, 2002; Yack et al., 2002). Daily routines and classroom accommodations, such as sensory-motor breaks or movement breaks, can improve attention spans, social skills, and work performance (Howlin, 2005; Murray et al., 2009), and these can be incorporated into the daily physical activity routine that all children should be encouraged to engage in. The use of therapy balls in the classroom, on which students can bounce to stimulate the vestibular system, is another strategy that can benefit other children in the inclusive classroom as well (Howlin, 2005; Wong Bonggat & Hall, 2010).


  • Quiet Corner

Classrooms are filled with distractions that students with autism often find challenging to block out. The sound of chairs scraping across the floor, students moving around, intercom announcements, flickering lights, and school bells can all be bothersome distractions that are nearly impossible for children with autism to ignore. Even strong smells can overwhelm the senses and dominate the minds of students who are sensitive to such stimuli. These distractions can become overwhelmingly taxing on the sensory system, particularly as the day progresses, leading to meltdowns. To prevent sensory overload, teachers can create a quiet corner in a low-traffic area of the classroom, providing students with a place to escape the constant barrage of noise and visual stimulation. This corner should offer a comfortable spot for students to rest and allow their sensory system to calm down. Noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs, sleep masks, and weighted blankets can all help students overcome sensory overload and prepare to resume the learning process with renewed focus.


  • Structured Breaks

Teachers can greatly improve the school day for students with autism by incorporating regular breaks into the schedule. Allowing for a brief five-minute break every hour can provide much-needed time for transitioning between tasks and recovering from the demands of the classroom environment. Additionally, breaks should be available on an as-needed basis to enable students with autism to learn how to recognize internal cues and take appropriate actions to regulate themselves. Without an adequate number of breaks throughout the day, students may be more susceptible to meltdowns due to sensory overload and fatigue from constantly trying to self-regulate. Guided breaks also offer an opportunity for students to discover which activities during break time provide the most benefit for them. Some students who seek sensory stimulation may prefer listening to music, while others who feel overwhelmed may benefit from quietly working on a jigsaw.


  • Alternative media

Students with autism often have difficulties with visual or auditory learning styles. Teachers should provide multiple options for media to accommodate each child’s specific learning style. For visual learners, a combination of literature, videos, pictures, and charts can effectively convey lesson information. On the other hand, auditory learners may require audio tapes or recordings of the written information for the lesson. For students who struggle with both visual and auditory learning styles, tactile tools can be provided to convey information. Tactile tools may include flashcards, board games, notetaking pads, computer games, and craft projects. While it can be beneficial for students to try different types of media from time to time, the best progress is often made when using the child’s preferred learning style.

It’s important to note that while eye contact can be useful, it is not essential, and educators should be mindful of cultural differences and individual preferences. Some children may find prolonged eye contact uncomfortable or painful, and alternative strategies, such as directing attention to chins, noses, or foreheads, may be more appropriate when trying to engage with students (Howlin, 2005)

Other useful questions on Teacher Island

Useful resources?


  • Killoran, 2004; Myles et al., 2000; Murray, et al., 2009 Creating inclusive environments for children with autism
  • Universal Design for Learning: Assistance for Teachers in Today’s Inclusive Classrooms – Spencer, Sally A. – Interdisciplinary Journal of Teaching and Learning, v1 n1 p10-22 Sum
  • Friedlander, D. (2008). Sam comes to school: Includng students with autism in your classroom. The Clearing House, 82 (3), 141-144.
  • Howe, M.B., Brittain, L.A.,& McCathren, R.B. (2004). Meeting the sensory needs of young children in classrooms. Young Exceptional Children, 8(1), 11-19
  • Howlin, P. (2005). The effectiveness of interventions for children with autism. Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 101-119. doi: 10.1007/3-211-31222-6_6