How can you make learning environments suitable for a person with autism?
As part of #WorldAutismAwarenessWeek, Chloe Harwood, Head of Sensory Room Design at Sensory Guru, has shared her top tips on how to create learning spaces that are accessible for a person with autism.
People with autism can suffer from hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity.
Hypersensitivity relates to when a person’s senses are too acute. This means that they could become overstimulated and sensitive to certain sounds, smells, sights or textures.
Hyposensitivity is when a person’s senses become under stimulated. As a result, they may find it hard to see, feel or hear things.
Products included in Sensory Room designs need to be versatile so that the needs of different participants can be catered for – no two people are the same.
The Sensory Guru Control App works to ensure that all of the different elements within a Sensory Room can be easily controlled by a facilitator from their phone or ipad, which enables elements within the Sensory Room to be tailored, in real time, to the needs of the participant.
Individual profiles can also be set up and stored, which helps to ensure that the levels of stimulation within the Sensory Room are set at the appropriate level for the participant each time the room is used.
All of Sensory Guru’s products can be set at variable levels of stimulation to suit the diverse needs of users.
This helps to ensure that participants do not become overwhelmed. For example, sound can be turned down or off and applications can be personalised.
Lighting can also be tailored to preferences, for example, research has demonstrated that the colour green can have a calming effect for people on the autism spectrum.
Free from clutter
Many learning environments can become jam packed with furniture, equipment and colourful displays of children’s work all over the walls. Visual and auditory noise can be very overwhelming and distracting for a child with autism.
Having adequate storage space built into a Sensory Room design is important so that equipment and resources can be kept neatly tucked away when not being used.
Sensory Guru’s designs incorporate clean lines and clutter free walls, as low sensory-stimulus environments can help to reduce sensory overload, stress and anxiety.
Starting with a blank space allows for the level of stimulation to be increased, depending on the requirements of the learners within the space.
Our Sensory Rooms incorporate products that offer multi-modal access – this means that participants can access and control the equipment through their preferred access method, whether it be switches, gesture, or voice (to name a few possibilities).
Voice control, in particular, can be extremely beneficial to encourage vocalisation in participants.
The use of wall-based interactive projection systems such as Magic Mirror can also be used to help develop screen engagement skills, so that participants can learn entry level skills to using augmentative and alternative (AAC) devices, such as controlling a touch device or communication board.
The incorporation of signs and pictures, known as picture communication symbols (PCS) around the room can also help people with autism to express themselves and develop communication skills. This is discussed further in the blog post, designing content for people with autism.
Through this, the environment becomes a teaching tool that enables participants to learn transferrable life skills, such as environmental control, communication and decision making.
These skills can then be generalised in new environments, marking a transition towards independent and unaided living.
Many people with autism have intense and highly-focused interests, such as trains or cars.
By incorporating content-based products into Sensory Room designs, like Magic Carpet and Magic Mirror, a participant’s particular interests can be incorporated into activities within the Sensory Room.
Through this, the interest becomes a motivational tool to enhance learning.
Sensory Rooms can also provide opportunities to develop interventions and coping strategies.
Products such as Magic Immersion can be used to create real world scenarios such as going to the shop, or for a ride on a train.
The Sensory Room becomes a safe space to explore the real world and develop coping strategies.
Through this, the Sensory Room becomes a vehicle for learning that connects learners to the world outside the classroom.
Medium of expression
In a traditional sense, the Sensory Room can be used as a place to calm and de-escalate learners with autism and as a space where they can feel free to express their emotions.
Swings, gentle music or relaxing projections on the Magic Carpet can be used to create an aura of relaxation and calm.
Alternatively, the incorporation of appropriate materials like crash pads can be used to create a space where learners can channel frustrations in a safe way. This can also help to develop coping strategies in times of frustration.
Sensory Rooms can be used in numerous ways depending on the desired learning outcome.
It is important to define what you want to achieve before you use the space and take time to consider which tools will be best utilised to achieve the desired aim.
Having a predictable, set sequence and process that is followed each time you use the Sensory Room can be highly beneficial for a person with autism.
Research has shown that people with autism generally learn best when using structure and routines.
At the end of sessions within the Sensory Room, participants can be encouraged to discuss what they liked and didn’t like about the session. This may include using picture communication symbols to highlight the activities they did and didn’t enjoy, or their favourite apps on the Magic Carpet.
This helps to develop communication and develop decision making skills.
Did you know that, according to the National Autism Society, only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment and only 32% are in some kind of paid work?
Sensory Guru is working to help to raise awareness of neurodiversity and create a more understanding and inclusive society!