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It is in the design of the classroom that the subtleties of producing an environment that suits the varying needs of Spring Common students and the ingenuity of the good teacher are revealed.  For example, the needs of the child with ASC for a low stimulation environment may be quite different from the requirements of a child with PMLD.  Similarly, each class grouping will contain a unique mix of students and so a formulaic classroom design will rarely be suitable.  At Spring Common the teacher is expected to consider the space available and the needs of the students in the class to design an optimum learning environment.  

Factors that need to be taken into consideration include:

Designated Areas

  • individual workstations
  • paired and group work areas
  • areas for 1 – 1 programmes
  • whole group and social area 
  • quiet zone for withdrawal

In locating the different areas of the classroom, it is important to consider movement and transitions, to ensure that the workstations of children who are easily distracted are located away from routes into and out of the class, or to frequently used resources.

Furniture and Resources

  • low level furniture and screens to divide areas
  • tray stacks for children who may require this level of formality in their learning environment
  • resources are accessible and are clearly labelled using photographs, Spring Common agreed symbols or text as appropriate
  • resources are returned to their storage location at the end of a teaching session.
  • surfaces are kept reasonably tidy and free from clutter
  • schedules and timetables are easily accessible for reference
  • once set up reorganisation of the room is kept to a minimum
  • personal areas for the storage of coats, bags and equipment

In promoting the independence of students with ASC it is important to encourage them to take control of their own learning requirements wherever possible.  This is more easily achieved in the context of a well-organised classroom where resources are located in a predictable and labelled location.

Classroom Displays

  • relevant to current learning topics
  • structured according to the needs of the students
  • located to allow for low stimulation areas for children who are
  • sensitive to excessive visual stimulation

In designing classroom displays the teacher may be forced to make compromises between some students whose attention is maximised by a highly visually stimulating display and others for whom the same display may be overwhelming and thereby inaccessible.  Some teachers at Spring Common have managed this conflict by locating their most visually ‘busy’ displays in public areas such as corridors and keeping classroom displays more simple in structure.

Sensory Needs

  • light levels (including maintenance of bulbs to avoid flickering)
  • noise levels and systems to manage this for sensitive students
  • materials chosen taking into account tactile defensiveness
  • students who may be sensitive to ‘unplanned touch’ enabled to avoid this

Further consideration to sensory needs is given in Chapter 7 of this handbook.  However, it is important to recognise the huge variability of sensory needs experienced by people with ASC and the need to plan individually for each student, drawing on support from the specialist skills of an Occupational Therapist (OT) as required.