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Designing Learning Environments for Children with Autism

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Presentation on theme: "Designing Learning Environments for Children with Autism"— Presentation transcript:

1 Designing Learning Environments for Children with Autism

2 Sunfield School Sunfield is a national UK charity specialising in the care of children with severe and complex learning needs and is recognised internationally for its work with children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Sunfield offers 52 week residential care and education as well as provision for day students.

3 The Research: Developing a learning environment to support children with profound autism to engage as effective learners A research classroom was provided to observe 6 students, 1 teacher and 3 teaching assistants (TAs) within their normal working classroom environment.

4 The Research: The work roomThe choice room Observe: Identify elements of the classroom learning environment which require modification in order to improve engagement in students with ASDs. Plan: Source modifications to improve engagement. Act: Trial modifications within the classroom. Evaluate: Assess the influence of trialled modifications on student engagement.

5 The Research Findings: The research findings are being used to inform the design of the new school being built at Sunfield, which will be opening in May.

6 1. Robustness of Chair Upholstery Classroom observations: students biting through the chair fabric and ripping it off. Plan: Source alternative fabrics. Action: Trial alternative fabrics until a suitably robust fabric was found. Evaluation: Finding a bite-proof fabric is difficult! Additional considerations: colour, waterproof etc.

7 2. Lighting Individuals with ASDs often experience an aversion to traditional fluorescent lighting - visual dysfunction - scotopic sensitivity (Irlen, 1991). –Fluorescent flicker affects their visual field –Colour spectrum emitted produces unnatural light –Lighting causes glare on surfaces –Lights create an audible hum Classroom observations: Students turning the lights off when stressed, flicking fingers in front of the lights, choosing to spend the majority of their time by the window, distracted by glare on work / furniture. Action: replace lightsTraditional Fluorescent LightsModern Daylight Fluorescent Ballasts / Flicker / HumMagnetic / Yes / YesElectronic / No / No Colour SpectrumUnnaturalNatural Louvers to prevent glareNoYes Evaluation: All behaviours either reduced or eliminated. Additional Considerations: robustness of light fitting, cost.

8 3. Laminate A matt surface is preferable to glossy when increasing accessibility for individuals with visual impairments (RNIB, 1999). Classroom Observations: Reflection from the lighting on the glossy laminate hindered the students ability to see their work, caused them to squint, and reduced their independence and engagement in activities as staff were frequently having to reposition work to reduce glare. Plan: Source matt laminate to replace the glossy laminate. Action: Trial matt laminate. Evaluation: With the matt laminate, glare is no longer causing reflections on the students work, and students are looking and engaging better in activities. Additional Considerations: Cost.

9 4. Furniture - Group Table Classroom Observations: Colour, Shape, Finish and Weight of furniture can impact on student engagement. Plan: Design bespoke furniture to meet the needs of the students. Action: Trial bespoke furniture. Evaluation: New furniture prompted a vast improvement in student engagement. Old TableNew Table ColourDark BrownPale Grey ShapeRectangularCurvilinear (Whitehurst, 2006) FinishGlossyMatt (RNIB, 1999) WeightLightHeavy

10 5. Furniture -Work Stations Old Work StationNew Work Station Composition:Mismatched cluttered furniture, screens Self-contained all-in-one design Colour:MixedPale grey Shape:AngularCurvilinear Finish:MixedMatt Weight:LightHeavy Additional considerations: Individual need, cost.

11 6. School Chairs Polypropylene stackable chair Max Chair Titan Chair Classroom Observations: students frequently rocked back on their chairs during classroom activities - a major distraction and a health and safety risk since they often tipped back so far they fell off! Plan: Alternative class chairs sourced which claimed to actively prevent children from leaning back and also improve posture. Action: A selection of class chairs trialled until a suitable chair was found. Evaluation: Anti-tilt chairs prevented rocking and improved student engagement. Additional considerations: Colour, Robustness.

12 7. Rocking Chairs Rocking is an important self-regulatory sensory vestibular system activity for many individuals with ASDs (Biel & Peske, 2005) Classroom Observations: Students enjoy rocking and use it as a calming mechanism. Plan: It is important to provide the students with a suitable opportunity for obtaining this stimulation, and thus a suitable rocking chair must be found. Action: A selection of rocking chairs were trialled to find one which met the students needs. Evaluation: The students successfully used the Lchair during choice time for relaxation, calming, exercise and fun. Additional considerations: Design, Composition, Safety, Material IKEA Rocking ChairGaiam Balance Ball ChairLchair

13 8. Flooring Many with ASDs experience sensory processing difficulties - hyper/hypo sensitivity to the environment (Bogdashina, 2003). Auditory sensitivity can cause background noises such as echos and footsteps to be a distraction and annoyance to those on the autistic spectrum, impeding their ability to engage in learning. Classroom observations: the lino flooring caused lots of background noise - footsteps, echoes and chair legs scraping. Plan: Alternative floorings sourced - Flotex, a robust and sound insulating carpet-style flooring (Whitehurst, 2006) and Chocflex – cushioned vinyl. Action: Trial alternative floorings. Evaluation: Flotex successfully reduced background noise, however there were concerns about cleaning and the carpet pattern. Chocflex, was easier to clean, however it did not have the sound insulating quality of the Flotex. Additional considerations: cleaning/hygiene, pattern, robustness Lino FlooringFlotexChocflex

14 9. Interactive Whiteboard Classroom observations: students showed the lowest levels of engagement during group work. Plan: Find a resource to improve engagement during group work – Research has shown that interactive whiteboards are beneficial for improving the engagement and learning of students with special educational needs (Clark & Nordness, 2007; Helms- Breazeale & Blanton, 2000; Salinitri, Smith, & Clovis, 2002), including physical disabilities (Speight & Slater, 2006), ADHD (Jamerson, 2002) and autism (Wilcox & Flaherty, 2007). Action: Interactive Whiteboard installed in the classroom. Evaluation: Some students responded positively to the IWB, showing greatly improved engagement during group activities, however others had difficulty understanding what was expected, and how to work the board around their shadows. Additional considerations: shadowing, robustness, cost - plasma screen, back-lit and sharp angle projectors are being considered

15 In Conclusion… There are various themes which recur when designing environments for individuals with autistic spectrum disorders: –Robustness (chair material, lighting, furniture, school chairs, rocking chairs, flooring, IWB) –Colour / Pattern (chair material, furniture, school chairs, rocking chairs, flooring) –Shape / Design (furniture, school chairs, rocking chairs) –Finish (laminate, furniture) –Hygiene (chair material, rocking chairs, flooring) –Composition (furniture, school chair, rocking chair) –Safety (furniture, school chairs, rocking chairs) –Lighting / shadowing (lighting, laminate, IWB) –Individual Need (work stations, rocking chairs) –Cost (lighting, laminate, furniture, IWB, everything to an extent!)


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