The degree to which accessibility is considered in school environments lays out an important foundation for how children perceive the world and providing accessible environments, as well as teaching methods, cannot be understated for this reason.
This is the case because, in addition to the development of intellect and social behaviour, an impression is made upon children as to what constitutes their “normal” environment, and whether the world will ignore their specific needs, or conversely, efforts will be made to help them feel like they fit in. To make them feel that they are no different to their peers and are treated equally.
For an education provider not to consider the needs of their neurodiverse children, can be incredibly damaging later on in life. It can lead to self-esteem problems, and bullying amongst peers, among other complexes. However, combatting this outcome through accessibility provision is easily achievable with the right knowledge, and in this blog, we will be highlighting some of the ways to make schools inclusive and accessible to all children recommenced by Direct Access’ Education Consultant, Sophie.
It’s important recognise that every child is different, and one design choice that benefits one child might not please another. However, there are some recurring characteristics in autistic children that are frequently identified and therefore used as a general rule. The first is that many autistic children are often unable to communicate or express their feelings in a way that is understood by others, which could be for a number of reasons including difficulty with communication, social skills, or sensory differences.
Another is that some autistic children may be overwhelmed or overstimulated by their crowded learning environment. Therefore, it’s important to consider some of the following suggestions to help create an inclusive learning environment:
Depending on the size of the classroom, identify whether areas of the classroom clearly distinguishable. Autistic children are known to think in terms of categorisation and are more resistant to change. If your classroom has a reading area, is it clearly separated from the computer area, the sensory area, etc?
Having a schedule to refer to can greatly reduce anxiety in some children. Does your classroom provide a visual timetable of the day? Offering this can not only allow children to prepare for certain tasks but give them space to speak to a teacher if they feel like they might need help.
Classrooms that celebrate children’s work are fantastic; however, it is also important to remember that it may be beneficial to have areas that avoid bright and distracting wall coverings and displays that can create a sensory overload. Consider also the announcement of celebrating a child’s work, as many autistic children do not enjoy being made the centre of attention.
It is also worth reviewing the chosen lighting in a classroom. For autistic children that are easily overstimulated or children with a sensitive auditory or visual disability, include light controls, such as blinds, to reduce any glare from natural light. Keep an eye out to see whether the children are comfortable.
Take into consideration too where a child sits in the classroom. Classrooms can be noisy and create sensory overload. Providing ear defenders, in a quiet area within the classroom or in an alternative, safe, designated area of the school can be massively beneficial.
Less structured parts of the day, such as lunch and break times can be particularly difficult as they can be noisy, busy, and unpredictable. Think about ways to reduce noise, or allow children to spend time indoors at break time if they want to. This is especially helpful as there may be times when social interactions are too demanding; try to accommodate this by having a quiet area with items that are linked to the child’s interests. In fact, having a range of play equipment both internally and externally can help to support a range of interests.
There are numerous approaches that can be taken to provide a suitable learning environment. Not every strategy will work with every child. Collaboration between the individual, teachers, parents, and carers is essential when trying a range of strategies to see what works best.
It is important to note that every individual is different. An important saying to remember is: “when you have met one autistic person, you have met one autistic person”.
Our award-winning access audits consider the needs of those with hidden disabilities such as autism, as well as those visible to the naked eye. If you are looking to increase accessibility for neurodiverse children at your school, click the button below to view our Access Audits and Consultancy.
If you are unsure what you need, feel free to get in contact with us just to talk! Or ask about our free accessibility checklist.
How Can We Help You Today?
A member of our award-winning accessibility team will be in contact.
If you would like to communicate in a specific way, please let us know.