The classroom and school in general can be an overwhelming place for students in special education, especially those that are autistic. There are so many different needs of students including things like sensory overload, difficulties with receptive and expressive communication and even challenges with processing information the same way as peers.
In order to make the school setting an inclusive environment, the IEP team has to have appropriate accommodations for students with autism in place to set them up for success during the school day. This could range from accommodations such as a visual schedule all the way to an assistive technology device to help with communication.
Let’s look at the different types of accommodations for students with autism that you may find on an IEP.
What are Accommodations?
Put simply, accommodations are adjustments or changes in the way we learn and teach that help students in special education. This might mean making changes to the learning environment, teaching strategies and/ or materials.
When a student is in special education, there are important documents mandated by federal law that must be put in place to make education accessible for all students. Some of these documents might include an individualized education program (IEP), 504 plan, or behavior intervention plan (BIP).
Be sure you read over your students’ documents when working on their accommodations. 504 plans are for students who have a disability or diagnosis that impacts them in the school setting, but who do not require specially designed instruction like students with an IEP do.
When a child is determined eligible for special education services, the IEP team will use the evaluation results and teacher and parent input to decide which accommodations and modifications to put in place. For example, a child whose psychological testing indicated that they have a slow processing speed may have the accommodations of extra time to work on assignments and tests plus additional wait time when asked a question.
It is the job of the IEP team to help make these education plans (which the parents are also part of) and decide the particular areas that accommodations would be beneficial to the student with the disability.
Role of Accommodations in Supporting Students with Autism
Having the right accommodations for a student plays a key role in providing a supportive classroom environment and school environment overall. Having formal accommodations in place helps to set students up for success at school and give students with special needs like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) equal access to education.
Types of Accommodations for Students with Autism
The following is a list of possible accommodations that could be used in the classroom setting or school setting in general by students with autism. It is the special education teacher’s job to make sure that the student is receiving the appropriate accommodations that are listed on his/ her education plan.
Here is a list of 8 types of accommodations for students with autism:
Some posts on this website contain affiliate links. I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you) whenever a product is purchased through these links.
1. Sensory Supports for Special Education
Many individuals with autism have sensory sensitivities. Sensory overload can occur when a person’s sensory system becomes overwhelmed by all of the environmental stimuli. This might look like loud noises in an auditorium, the fire alarm going off or just the hustle and bustle of the busy hallway.
For students with autism, this can lead to anxiety, meltdowns and difficulty focusing. Here are some accommodations you might list on an IEP or 504 Plan to help with sensory support:
- noise-canceling headphones
- sensory breaks
- quiet spaces
- frequent breaks
- movement breaks
- sensory input throughout the day
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: The Best Sensory Fidget and Stress Toys for Autism Classrooms
2. Facilitating Communication
Communication can sometimes be a difficult area for individuals with autism. Most receive related services for speech and language therapy. Students may have difficulties with both expressive language skills (telling us what they need and want – expressing themselves) and receptive language skills (understanding what is being asked of them).
In order to help students with server communication needs, the following accommodations could be put in place:
- time extension on assignments and tests to give the student plenty of time to understand and answer the questions.
- visual supports
Check out this Visual Supports Starter Pack to grab all the visuals you should have in your autism classroom!
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 5 Tips for Using Visual Supports in the Classroom
3. Accommodations for Executive Functioning (Attention, Organization, Study Skills)
Students with autism and students in special education also need accommodations for things like helping them to stay focused if attention is a concern, helping them learn study skills or get organized.
Some accommodations that you might see under this category are:
- visual aids
- graphic organizers for writing
- preferential seating close to the board so as not to get distracted
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 19 Ideas to Make Your Autism Classroom More Efficient
4. Academic Accommodations
Academic accommodations are used mainly if a student spends a lot of time in the general education setting. These would be accommodations that would help enhance their ability to complete the needs of each academic subject.
For example, some accommodations could be:
- graphic organizers to use in writing
- additional time to complete assignments if they have a slower processing speed
- no time limit when taking tests
- some students may even take the modified state testing depending on their cognitive ability and this would be listed along with accommodations on the IEP as well
5. Comprehension Supports
If a student struggles with comprehension, their class work is going to have some comprehension supports. These accommodations might look like:
- additional time for class work
- small group instruction
- additional time on tests
- additional wait time when asked a question
6. Accommodations for Unstructured Parts of the School Day
Specials, recess and lunch can be more unstructured parts of the school day and big areas of school that need some accommodations in place for students with autism. As an autism teacher, I found that using visuals during specials such as PE, art and music can be widely beneficial. It helps students know what to expect next and diminishes the art of surprise.
Check out visual schedules for:
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: PE Visuals and Schedules
7. Behavioral Supports and Accommodations
Social interaction and social anxiety is a big area of concern for the autism population. You will typically see social skills support listed as an accommodation for a student that really struggles with social interaction or behavior. You might see this accommodation on an IEP or a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). There are many other types of accommodations that can be used to support students with autism in the area of behavior such as:
- positive reinforcement
- choice boards
- visual supports
- visual cues
- visual schedules
- social stories
- social skills group
- sensory input
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 5 Tips for Successful Transitions in an Autism Classroom
8. Assistive Technology
Last but not least, let’s discuss assistive technology as an accommodation for students with autism. If a student needs to access assistive technology it means that they require some type of device to actually help them communicate. For instance, communication apps or visual schedule apps can assist students in expressing their needs and following routines. An augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device is a device that helps someone with a speech or language impairment to communicate.
Some examples of this might be if a student has an eye gaze, using a LAMP program on an Ipad or using Braille to communicate.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: The Best Classroom Activities for Nonspeaking Autistic Students
Accommodations vs Modifications
I hear from a lot of people in the education world wondering if modifications are the same as accommodations. Simply put, the answer is no.
An accommodation affects how a student accesses material while a modification changes what the student is taught or expected to learn. Accommodations don’t change what a student learns, just how they access it. As stated above, some accommodations might be things like allowing frequent breaks, providing visuals alongside curriculum, preferential seating in the classroom away from distractions and time extensions or no time limits on tests.
Examples of modifications might look like:
- fewer questions
- lower level text
- adjusted grading scale
- shortened assignments
- adjusted curriculum