How Active Furniture can help Autistic Students in the Classroom
Since we started selling active classroom furnishings, we have received so much positive feedback from parents and teachers on how beneficial the addition of active chairs and desks has been for students with autism. But we’ll be honest, we are not experts on autism and what accommodations made for students with the disorder. So, we decided to do a bit of research on what it is and what caregivers can do to make children with autism to feel more at ease in the classroom and at home.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communications. In 2015, the Public Health Agency of Canada found that 1 in 66 children in Canada was affected by ASD, where each ASD individual can display different deficiencies. The need for routine, tunneled interests, lack of eye contact, repetitive and constant body movements are common amongst most people with ASD. For most ASD students, the classroom can be a very challenging environment as there are many distractions and stimuli that can overwhelm their senses. Here are a few researched sources that lend tips to managing an active classroom for ASD.
Be predictable and structured
Individuals with ASD thrive off a structured schedule so they can anticipate what is next. This almost-authoritarian style of order needs to be implemented in the physical space too, to ensure everything has its place so there is no ambiguity or mess (which can be a distraction). Classrooms would benefit from having very defined spaces, such as carpet area, collaboration tables, personal desks, etc., so students are not confused within their classroom. If an open classroom lacks definition, consider space or room dividers to further segment the space. We like the Luxor Reclaim Acoustic Room Dividers as they provide division and a sound barrier to reduce distractions.
Images as communication
Being that one of the most powerful senses is sight, students with ASD also respond extremely well to visual cues. Unlike auditory reminders which fade as soon as the source stop projecting, a visual cue can be an enduring source of reference, thus pictures and written words are a more reliable method of communicating. Whether is it learning something new or asking about preferences, graphics and images accompanying words can allow ASD students to respond quicker than verbally coercing an answer.
A common characteristic of ASD students is that they can be easily distracted. By arranging desks forward-facing, as opposed to being in a circle facing inwards, students are more likely to stay focused on assigned tasks. A study, The Impact of Dynamic Seating on Classroom Behaviour of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Sadr et al., revealed that over 80% of ASD students were able to sit calmly and over 50% of students were able to stay on assigned tasks whilst sitting on a therapy ball instead of a traditional desk chair. Further, students demonstrated less repetitive behaviour and increase social interaction when sat on a therapy ball chair. However, the instability of therapy ball chairs can cause issues too: such as it rolls away when students stand up, or not allowing for shifting weight safely, lack of back support, or even the lack of height adjustability. The Safco Zenergy or Runtz are firm, stable solutions to a therapy ball chair, as they allow students to safely shift their weight and firmness to allow for taller posture. For students that have a hard time sitting still in a traditional desk, try the FootFidget Footrest, which helps to dispel any restless leg bounce or energy without disrupting others.
Further, the results of a teacher survey taken by 95 teachers from three schools of ASD students by Kanakri et al, commented that the upgrades in their classroom would greatly benefit their students included carpeting, non-metal furniture, transitional spaces, and acoustical or thick walls. Whilst is it not practical to request large scale renovations, small additions like adding rugs and pictures on walls to reduce echo and adhesive furniture felts to bottoms of chairs and desks can make the classroom a more welcoming environment for ASD students.
Dim the lights
Individuals with ASD can be hypersensitive to light, especially bright and flickering lights. Fluorescent lights, which illuminate most classrooms while energy efficient and economical, are missing chunks of the light spectrum which causes stress and anxiety in students. In a study by Kuller and Laike, The impact of flurorescent flicker on the well-being, revealed fluorescent lights increase repetitive behaviour in students with ASD. A suitable alternative is halogen lighting where the soft, warm light has a fuller light spectrum mimics natural sunlight. In a small sample study by Kinnealey et al, The effects of classroom modification on attention and engagement of students with autism and dyspraxia, researchers replaced fluorescent lighting with halogen lighting in the classroom of 4 ASD students, 3 students came back with the following statements, “I love hearing now (in reference to the absence of the buzzing of fluorescent lighting) and “[I am] much calmer now than when the big lights were on.”
Create a relaxation area
Students with ASD will find a calm and quiet space to be welcoming. Here, students who use repetitive motions to self-soothe can freely do so. Some of these self-soothing repetitive movements include hand flapping, rocking back and forth, jumping, finger flicking, and many more. Allowing for time and space where an ASD student relaxes can greatly benefit as they will be able to release any tensions. This can be done by engaging in deep breathing, counting to ten, contract and releasing of muscles. We suggest outfitting these relaxation areas with the Kore Kids Floor Wobble Balance Disc and Kore Kids Adjustable Grow with Me Wobble Chair as these allow students to safely engage in rocking motions due to the anti-roll ring at the base.
When we started offering active classroom furniture, we knew that many people could benefit from introducing active options to their sedentary lifestyle, but it didn’t cross our minds that it could be such a fundamental change to a student’s perception of their classroom. Each time we receive feedback from a school or parent on how a small change, like a small addition of a Wobble Chair, helped a student, we feel we are contributing and enriching lives through our products. Research is ongoing for ASD, but it has uncovered some helpful guidelines on which environments are best for children with ASD. We are so thankful for these solutions that make such a huge impact on helping students feel more comfortable in their learning environment.