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There are a lot, I mean a lot of accommodations for autism, ADHD, anxiety, and more out there. I should know. I used dozens during my time as an alternative education teacher. But not every accommodation will help every child.
Kids with muscular dystrophy don’t need the same accommodations as an autistic, blind, or dyslexic kid, after all. So how is a parent supposed to wade through all the lists of accommodations out there? How can they understand what the terms mean, and evaluate if it’s right for their child?
While I can’t list every single accommodation under the sun, I’ve covered some of the most important. I’ve broken them up by categories: sensory, language, social/behavioral, executive functioning, and learning accommodations. Since not all autistic children experience the same range of disability in each area, you can pick and choose which will work best for you & your child.
Finally, some of these only apply to a child in the public school (like changing classes in an empty hallway). However, many of these will be useful to parents homeschooling their autistic child. Wherever you fall on the education spectrum (pun completely intended), let’s get right to it!
Sensory accommodations for autism
This one can mean many different things, and is usually critical for a child with autism, so listen up. Sometimes “preferential seating” means having the autistic child sit nearest to the board, or furthest away from vents, speakers, or the intercom. It could also mean
Slightly altered schedule The idea is for the child to leave or arrive five minutes apart from the rest of students. This gives them a chance to get to and from their classes without being part of the hallway hustle that could cause sensory overload.
Allow fidget/stim/sensory toys
“Stimming,” or self-stimulatory behavior, is often an autistic person’s go-to tool for dealing with sensory information. And honestly, if you were to try and ban stim toys altogether, they’d probably find a way to use a random pencil, rubber band, or pebble to meet their needs. So let them use stim devices in class, so long as they’re not horribly disruptive to the other students.
Special types of seating accommodations for autism
This might mean a seating pad on a regular chair, or a different kind of chair entirely. I’ve seen a standing desk, yoga ball, chairs with a built-in kick pads, and more. I go into plenty of options at the end of my ADHD accommodations article.
This might mean thinking about the lighting, the type of flooring, chalkboards vs whiteboards, decorations, and a thousand other things. You’ll need to chat with each individual autistic child to get a sense of their particular needs and triggers. When the time comes to limit these distractions, things like noise-cancelling headphones can be a huge asset!
These might be scheduled into the child’s day, given when necessary, or both. Breaks are an important part of a child’s self-regulation. They give the child a chance to move, de-stress, and then continue with their day.
Language accommodations for autism
Autistic children generally have a difficult time with non-literal language. Sarcastic comments can be especially challenging because without understanding sarcasm, the comments could be perceived as very hurtful. Depending on a child’s ability, explaining metaphors and
Checks for understanding
This accommodation asks the teacher to check in with the autistic student to make sure they’ve understood directions, expectations, etc. I’ve seen this be most successful when the child explains, in his or her own words, what’s expected of them in the next ten minutes, half hour, etc before being turned loose.
Allow verbal answers
This could be on tests, quizzes, or open-ended essay questions, especially if the child already attempted to write an answer. The only caveat is that it doesn’t count if writing ability is what’s being assessed. Otherwise, this accommodation for autism allows the child to show what they know without the mode of assessment getting in the way. Other alternatives could include providing a scribe or allowing voice-to-text software.
Provide written copies
This one is so important. Language processing takes a lot of mental bandwidth, and sometimes the information never makes it into long-term memory. This makes remembering deadlines, instructions, and rules a challenge. Instead, let the autistic kid have written copies of lectures, instructions, rubrics, and feedback.
Allow ample time for processing
Like I said, language processing sometimes takes longer for an autistic child. Because of this, it might take longer for them to comprehend your question and find the words to express themself. Don’t rush them with questions of “Hello? Did you hear me?” if they take more time to respond than you’d expect.
Social/Behavioral accommodations for autism
Special signal with teacher
Teachers can create special nonverbal, low-profile signs with the student to help communicate. They might be used when the student should do a self behavior check, to help the student anticipate their turn to answer a question, or to give positive reinforcement.
Create a plan for typically “unstructured” times
These times include lunch, recess, daily pick ups & drop offs, etc. These times can cause serious anxiety in kids with autism. Having a pre-established plan helps both the child and the relevant adults know what to expect. Part of this plan might be using a peer to peer buddy system, role playing scenarios, and social stories.
Also create a ‘deescalation’ plan.
What warning signs does your child exhibit before they experience a meltdown or other negative behavior? What should teachers or staff do when they notice those warning signs to help your child deescalate instead of escalating? Some suggestions might be to offer a quiet room to cool off, have access to a trusted adult, or use a particular device/tool/strategy to help them cope.
This might include tangible rewards, token boards, sticker charts, extra time on a favorite activity, and more. The goal is to increase positive behaviors and decrease negative behaviors.
Executive Functioning accommodations for autism
I’ve got an entire article on executive functioning accommodations for autism and other learning differences, but I’ll share a few of the highlights here.
Have all assignments broken down into smaller chunks, usually with separate deadlines (For example: instead of “essay due Friday” have one paragraph due every day leading up to Friday)
Keep to the schedule
Try to help them predict their day as much as you can. Changes can be distressing for autistic children, so teach them to keep a calendar, agenda book, or other schedule. Write down the anticipated structure of every day and go over it with them. When changes must eventually come, and announce them ahead of time, when possible.
Provide graphic organizers
Learning accommodations for autism
Extra time on assignments and tests
Kinda a no-brainer, don’t you think? But still, parents and teachers alike constantly forget this accommodation. Having extra time is one of those accommodations that works equally well in a homeschool IEP as a public school one
Small group work
This could mean receiving instruction in a small group (either in a regular ed or special ed classroom). It could also mean taking tests in a smaller, quieter environment.
Familiar test proctor
Studies show that all students, not just autistic ones, do better on tests when the person giving it is someone they know. Of course, this generality is amplified for an autistic child. Testing often means the daily schedule is interrupted, and test pressure can cause massive anxiety. To help reduce the stress of a big test, have the proctor be someone the child knows & trusts.
Access to resource room
The creme de la creme of accommodations for autism. I saw this one on virtually every single IEP I helped create. Resource rooms are so important to a child’s stability, both emotionally and academically. They provide a grounding touchpoint for the child where they know they’re safe, loved, and understood.
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For further reading on this topic:
- The Executive Functioning Checklist
- Your Guide to Homeschooling a Special Needs Child
- How to Create a Homeschool IEP- Five Easy Steps
- Online School Pros & Cons
Or browse posts in our special needs category.
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.