Organization & Planning {big questions and considerations}

Before you start whipping around shelves and desks trying to make centers or even before you try and get going on some visual schedules for your students, there are some essential questions you MUST ask yourself. Yes – I am advising you to talk to yourself like a crazy person. Take yourself out for a glass of wine to make it more enjoyable if you must but either way you have got to figure out these considerations before moving ahead.

  • How many adults do you have?
    • Is it you by yourself? Do you have aides?
      • If you are by yourself – you will need to focus some real energy and time on creating some rocking independent work systems. You need your students to be occupied while you work one on one or in small groups with other students so you can individualize instruction. You don’t want this to be just busy work but rather some tasks and activities that truly work on generalizing mastered skills…. while still being independent tasks so you can work with other students. It’s a fine line.
      • If you have aides – give your aides stations/centers to run! It is my biggest pet peeve when I walk into classrooms and see the aides solely prompting or assisting in transitions. Have them working on real academic skills! You will get more IEP goals worked on more regularly and get way more data taken. Your classroom will be more efficient because your students will be learn more, more quickly.
    • Are any aides assigned to only one student?
      • Here is the caveat to the whole have-your-aides-run-stations idea. If you have a paraprofessional assigned to only one student – don’t touch that. That student most likely has that indicated on his IEP which is a legal document. Make sure that paraprofessional is truly dedicated to that child. There is some debate about the justification of a one on one paraprofessional. It’s true that there is the risk of a student becoming prompt dependent on that aide. However – in the case of extreme behaviors such as aggression, self injury, property destruction, or elopment – safety is the number one priority and a dedicated aide may be the way to maintain safety. Here are some posts on dedicated aides:

The Autism Helper - Organization & Planning

The Autism Helper - Organization & Planning

  • What is your classroom dynamic?
    • changes year to year
    • Do you have mostly academic students or mostly learners working on foundational/pre-academic work? Or a combo?
    • Begin to figure out where the majority of your class lies – to determine what types of centers and work tasks to make.
  • Will you be having a desk for each student?
    • I don’t because I don’t have enough room and we don’t do anything whole group! We have some tables in the center of the class (used for  independent work) that we can use as a group for special events such as birthday parties.

The Autism Helper - Classroom Set Up

    • Your classroom might have enough space for a desk for each student! You can use desks to form your “morning group/morning circle” area and can also be used for group activities. A pro of a desk for each student is that students can can store schedules, supplies, and individualized work in the desk.
    • Do what works for you. Don’t feel locked into either model.
  • What type of independent work task system will you be using?
    • Many classrooms use the traditional TEACHH 3-bin work task.

The Autism Helper - Classroom Set Up

      • Benefits: great for learners who need that structure and routine, works well in general ed room, and perfect for teaching students to work independently (who have not before)
      • Downfall: not functional or space efficient to have one for each student, may not be the “least restrictive” approach, and very time consuming to set up/switch out each day
    • Least restrictive approach: I like to think about things based on what is the least restrictive/what is closest to the general education. 3 Bin work tasks aren’t always the answer.
    • My independent work system:
      • Two shelves full of work   tasks labeled with numbers/letters. Students get a mini schedule that shows what 3 tasks they need to do. They match the letter piece to the box, do the work, and then put it back.

The Autism Helper - Classroom Set Up

      • Much more space efficient, easier to maintain, and works for ALL of my students.
      • Check out this post  (in depth video tutorial included) and this video on how to set up this awesome system:

The Autism Helper - Independent Work

  • What else can your students do independently?
    • Think outside the box!
    • Puzzles, games, journals – independent work can take a wide range of forms!
    • Make sure these materials are stored in a central location so they can be easily accessible when your students have down time.

The Autism Helper - Classroom Set Up

  • What kind of space will you need for your students schedule?
    • If your students will be using wall schedules – you will need to keep one area of your classroom free from furniture. Make sure schedules aren’t behind a table that students will be working on regularly or very close the doorway if you have runners. This space should be easy to access!

The Autism Helper - Classroom Set Up

    • If your students will be using binder schedules – you need a low bookshelf or table for these to be stored. Make sure these are easily accessible too! A table or bookshelf is ideal because they can quickly open their schedule without having to pull it out from somewhere. If your students will each have their own desk – they can store schedules on or in their desk!

The Autism Helper - Classroom Set Up

  • Do you need space for PECS books or AAC devices?
    • These are your students’ voice. These systems should be stored in a central location that is easily accessible. Even if they mostly carry the device with them, the device or system needs a “home base” so the student always knows where it is when its not with them.
  • How much space do you need for your teacher desk?
    • I never sit at mine but need a lot of storage for supplies and materials.

The Autism Helper - Classroom Set Up

  • Does your classroom have kitchen equipment for cooking activities?

The Autism Helper - Classroom Set Up

    • How big will the groups be you will be cooking with? Whole group, small group? Put kitchen equipment near whatever table you will be cooking at!
    • Make sure there are enough plugs!
  • Where will you students store backpacks and coats?
    • Does you classroom have lockers or a coat room? Consider putting students schedules near backpack storage so the morning has a nice flow.
  • What kind of sensory area do you want? 
    • I think it’s way more functional to embed sensory breaks throughout the day.
    • Break area over sensory area. Break area sounds more generalized. When students are included in the general education – it sounds more typical to take a break over taking some sensory time.
    • Our sensory is included in our break area. Because sensory play is a how our students take a break! Our break area includes our therapy balls, sensory toys, trampoline etc.

The Autism Helper - Classroom Set Up

    • Messy sensory items are stored in sensory bins and are used as reinforcers or break time activities.

The Autism Helper


  • Does your break area need to be a “safe space”? How will you deal with student aggression
    • Your break area may need to be used as a calming area for when a student is having a meltdown. This will completely change the way you set up this area.
    • Remove all small toys/items to be stored nearby the break area. Students can bring these items into the break area to play with them but they are not stored in there (ie. this items could not be thrown during a meltdown).
    • Space is void of all potential dangerous materials. (think throwing! – I thought an etch a sketch was safe until I once got hit in the head with one…)
    • Metal or wood shelves may not be safe dividers for students who head bang or climb. Use soft dividers.

The Autism Helper - Classroom Set Up

  • What stations will your paraprofessionals run?
    • Paraprofessionals should be running stations – they can work on IEP goals, skill generalization, social skills instruction, and communication training.
    • My paras run:

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  • Where are the plugs located in your class?
    • You can’t put a computer center in a part of the classroom without plugs!
  • Are any of your students runners who would benefit from a structured alcove to work in?
    • You do not want your students who run to have easy access to the door. Make sure their work area is physical divided and does not have a clear pathway to the door. You will just be asking for problems. If you have multiple students who run (like me!) – have more than one area like this because more than likely they will be working at the same time!



So take some time. Take some notes. And start thinking through these questions that will guide your classroom setup.

Seven Steps for Setting Up a Stellar Autism Room


  1. Hi, I am in the process of setting up a work task station for next year, bought your system on TpT, and have watched your videos, etc. (Which are so helpful!) After you set it all up how often is everything switched out? Like if each kid does 3 tasks a day, and I have 12 kids, then I need 36 different tasks for one day right? (Or do some kids do the same task in a day, just at different times?) Do you assign the same 3 tasks to a student all week, or do they do a different 3 tasks each day? How long do they have at the work task station? Thanks for your help, Lisa Goodell,

  2. Hey Lisa, I have some kids do the same task on the same day at different times. Some tasks go back and forth (ie screw pieces together and then next kid takes apart). I have 60 tasks and about 14-16 students do this center each day. I switch the tasks out each day. I make a schedule for the week roughly (here is the post: So the kids mostly end up doing a task about once a week. Hope this helps!

  3. I love your work system idea! I watched the video and your tasks and set up look amazing! I teach K-3 and I am wondering if it would be difficult for some of them to get up and down between tasks (I currently use a 3 work bin set-up) Have you had this problem?…

  4. You are my hero!!!!! I love ur summer plan! I have been thinking I wanted to do a little bit each week and I’ve been a little overwhelmed at which to do first! Thanks to you, I now have a beautiful summer calendar to guide me 🙂 thanks so much!

  5. Yes – for some students it is difficult for the transition. But for those students – I put the tasks on lower level shelves and I think part of the challenge and “work” of this task for these students – is that transition. Does that make sense? I might have explained that weirdly…

  6. You are very welcome! Hope the posts are helpful! 🙂

  7. Yes that makes sense. Part of their “task” is learning to do a task in a different way. It makes complete sense I just hadn’t thought of it that way! 🙂 Thanks!!!

  8. I am a k-2 primary functional teacher of 5 students, 4 with severe autism and one student with DD. I have 3 runners and all have severe meltdowns. My classroom has two exit doors, one is a couple of yards from the entrance street and parking lot and the other into the hallway. I have one fulltime para and one part time floater. I have voiced my concerns to the principal and others about safety concerns. The reply is always the same, I need to keep them actively engaged and highly supervised. We are not allowed to block the door or use any type of locks. Any suggestions would be more than appreciated. I am so stressed, tired and frustrated with these issues I worry constantly about their safety.
    Thanks for your help,


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