Approximately 120,000 children in England start their educational journey at a considerable disadvantage. According to research (Baird et al, 2006) an estimated 1% of the U.K population have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition (ASC). Some of them find that everyday experiences such as hearing bird song or noticing the brightness of a computer screen can be quite overwhelming.
Their hypersensitivity means that their experience of everyday stimuli such as sound, taste, colour and even pain can be exceptionally intense and blot out other sounds, sights and smells. This is called sensory overload and occurs because they have difficulties processing sensory information.
They may feel very distressed and react by behaving in ways which challenge onlookers, friends and family. This is why it is so important to create environments both in the home and at school which takes account of their needs.
Creating structure in their environment is key
Research indicates that individuals with ASC benefit from a sense of routine and structure (Guldberg, 2010). Within the classroom setting, organising the furniture in a way that clearly defines work spaces, as well as ensuring that the layout limits sensory distraction can be helpful. Similarly, when working with young people who struggle to process auditory information, it may be helpful to put their desk in a section of the classroom with low stimulation, away from other learners and as close as possible to the teacher.
Individuals with ASC have often been described as visual learners (Mesibov & Shea, 2008). Visual timetables in the classroom provide signposts so that they can see at a glance how their day will be structured. They can also provide consistent visual cues for a child at home and at school which can be very reassuring.
Small changes that make a big difference
At Innovating Minds we believe that in order to support young people with emotional and mental health needs, it is fundamental that the agencies and systems surrounding them receive adequate assistance, training and guidance.
Here are some tips we’ve compiled that can be implemented in both the home and school. We hope that these will support you in creating a sensory inclusive environment for the child diagnosed with ASC in your life.
- Choose muted pastel tones (pale blues, greens and pinks) for all walls, display boards, flooring etc.
- Where possible avoid florescent lighting. For individuals with ASC it can feel like an assault on the senses! Research also demonstrates repetitive behaviours increase significantly in individuals with autism upon exposure to florescent lighting (Colman, 1976; Küller & Laike, 1998,).
- Choose furnishings which inhibit noise such as double-glazed windows and carpet.
- Remove hot air driers in the toilets as many young people with ASC find them threatening.
- Establish a quiet space that the young person can withdraw to when their environment becomes overly stimulating.
Take note. Each child with ASC is different and will have unique needs. If you identify something that is negatively affecting the child in your home or classroom with ASC, explore ways of eliminating it from their environment.
For information on the work we have doing at Innovating Minds please visit: http://www.innovatingmindscic.com/
By Princess Rose, Assistant Psychologist, Innovating Minds.
* Baird, G., Simonoff, E., Pickles, A., Chandler, S., Loucas, T., Meldrum, D., & Charman, T. (2006).
Prevalence of conditions of the autism spectrum in a population cohort of children in South Thames:
the Special Needs and Autism Project (SNAP). The lancet, 368(9531), 210-215
* Guldberg, K. (2010). Educating children on the autism spectrum: preconditions for inclusion and
notions of ‘best autism practice’in the early years. British Journal of Special Education, 37(4),
* Küller, R., & Laike, T. (1998). The impact of flicker from fluorescent lighting on well-being,
performance and physiological arousal. Ergonomics, 41, 433–447
* Mesibov, G., & Shea, V. (2008). Structured teaching and environmental supports. Learners on the
autism spectrum: Preparing highly qualified educators, 114-137.