When I started teaching in an Autism Unit, I had so many questions and unfortunately I found very little support online. I have been teaching in an Autism Unit for the past two years – 1/2 year in an Autism Unit and 1 1/2 years in an Early Intervention Unit. I hope that by writing this blog post, it will give teachers some answers to questions I had when I began teaching. This post will detail classroom structure, in-depth classroom layouts, displays, timetables and recording work. I hope you enjoy!
This depends on the number of children in your class. There is a maximum of six children per class. If you have 4 or more children, you are entitled to 2 SNA’s. I had three children in my class so it was just me and one other SNA. It is so important at the beginning of the year to establish a routine with your SNA.
You are ultimately responsible as the class teacher but you are working more closely with the SNA compared to a mainstream class due to the nature of needs and class size. You both need to be aware of who is supposed to doing what at all times – there is no room for complacency here. Make a timetable that is clearly displayed in the class and have where each adult is supposed to be at all times on it – easy and reduces confusion (Picture 1 – Example of weekly rota. Can be changed to daily rota depending on your class)
The layout is so important – I changed mine 3 times from September to March because it just was not working (i.e. if individual tables are too close to door, children can become distracted and off task if someone comes to the door).
Circle Time Area
We had a special place in the corner of our classroom for circle time (see picture 2 ). Keep displays to a minimum because sometimes if you are trying to get children to focus on you, they can be very distracted with materials on the walls around them. I had 3 things on display on the walls at circle time:
- Chart with present/absent and pictures of the children on it. They would take turns at changing this each day depending on who was present and absent.
- Number and letter of the week – No other letters/numbers in this area.
- Circle time rules – make them highly visual (i.e. if one of your rules is that children are to remain seated, then have a picture of a child sitting rather than just the written text).
Our circle time area had soft couches because circle time was the first academic activity in the day so it was important to ensure that children looked forward to it!
Table Top Area
Each child had their own desk where they would complete their work (see picture 3). These tables were super useful because work could be organised into separate drawers and children had a clear space to work. We used the sequence ‘left-to-right’, which meant that uncompleted work was placed on the raised left hand side of table – it was moved into the middle section when they were completing it and it was then placed on the raised right hand side of table when it was finished. Once children had finished all work, they would organise all the work on the right hand side of the table back into their corresponding drawers.
Each table has a picture of the child on the side facing the classroom (the other side was facing the wall) and a hook where they would hang their jacket and school bag. All children possessions were kept at their own table for ease of access when needed.
Children ate lunch together at one table (See Picture 4). When they arrived in the morning, they would put their bag on the hook that I had attached to their individual table (Picture 3). They would take out their lunch and go over to the lunch table and put their lunch in their own lunch basket, which was on their space in front of them at the table. With parents’ permission, I was allowed take a picture of the child’s face (with school camera), print it, laminate it and Sellotape it onto their place at the table. This meant they knew where they were sitting and could visually see this was their place.
I put this table close to the door for easy transition into lining up when lunch was over. Keep the table close to bin or even have a place in the middle/side of table where children don’t have to leave their seat to discard their rubbish.
Other Important Areas
Have a place where children can go if they become overwhelmed.
Blacked – Out Tent: We had a blackout tent. Some children can be very light sensitive and having this tent allows them to self-regulate and re-join the class when they feel ready again.
Soft furnishings : Children need time to regulate their behaviour and gather their thoughts. We made one corner into a soft furnishings area (i.e. floor padding with 2 large bean bags laid on top). Children could get comfortable here if they needed to and sometimes would take a book with them during free play and sit there with their book/favourite toy.
I would use the term ‘minimal but educational’ to describe my displays. This is still an area with a lot of confusion – some say to have a rich vibrant classroom to stimulate children’s interest and others say to keep all walls clear to minimise distractions.
My advice, which worked in my classroom, would be to put the essentials on the wall – days of week, phonics sounds, numbers, classroom rules and any PECS displays you might be using. When it comes to displaying artwork, I usually kept the most recent artwork displayed on the children’s individual desk (just one piece of artwork) and then I would keep the rest in a folder that I would send home at the end of the year. This way children can see the work they have completed but are not overwhelmed with lots of artwork around the class.
In a mainstream class, timetables are very structured and rigid with no room for movement. However, in an Early Intervention Unit more time needs to be made for life skills – i.e. putting on jacket, lining up, gathering materials for lessons – basically any activity that enables children to become more independent. I would encourage my class to be as independent as they can, which meant more time would be given to tidying up after lunch, getting ready for home-time, etc.
I think the best thing to do would be to identify the area of greatest area of need and speak to your principal about your timetable. You need to remember you still need to give sufficient time to all areas of the curriculum. Picture 5 below is an example of a timetable you could base yours on – I have individual timetables for each child and they can sometimes change based on the child’s progress.
The great thing about an Early Intervention Class is that due to the lower number of children, you really have the best opportunity to tailor learning to each individual child. I had individual timetables for each child.
As you and your SNA’s are working one-on-one with each child, you only see one child for a certain part of the day. Have a system/timetable in place that ensures you are giving all children the same time within each area of the curriculum.
I kept a progress report (see picture 6) at each desk for each child and if an adult completed an activity with the child, they would fill in the report – what the activity was and how the child coped with the activity. This meant I knew what was going on in the classroom at all times with each child, even if I had not completed the activity with them. I read this report at the end of each day and planned the following day of activities based on it. Please ensure that your time is divided appropriately – if you complete a maths activity with one child today and the SNA does it with the other child, you must swap in the afternoon/next day/week. As the class teacher, you are ultimately responsible for the teaching and learning of ALL children. Do not expect an SNA to complete work with a child and then expect that to be sufficient.