Seven Steps for Setting up a Stellar Autism Classroom: Classroom Structure

Categories: Resources

Seven Steps for Setting up a Stellar Autism Room

… or how to incorporate these steps into your general ed room

1. Organization and Planning

2. Classroom Structure

3. Schedules

4. Visuals

5. Data

6. Work Tasks, Academic Work, and IEP Goals

7. Communication

Classroom Structure

The structure of your classroom is critically important for children with autism. The environment needs to be predictable. The same tables are used for the same type of work each day. You should have separate areas for the different centers and areas of work (independent work, group work, break time, etc.). These areas should be visually divided. That way the student can focus on the work in that area and not be distracted. Also the area should be visually defined. This lends to the predictability and eases the anxiety of transitions. Since verbal language and socially cues can be difficult for children with autism, when the same physical areas are used for the same types of tasks – students know what is expected of them and what they will be doing when they arrive at a center. (Check out ideas for using the same tables/stations for different activities!)

  • Apply this to your general ed class:  You can apply this same concept to your general education classroom for students who are included. Many early childhood classrooms are typically set up this way – with different centers for different tasks.
    • You may want to set up separate areas for your student to work on different academic areas. For example, for math we sit at your desk and for reading we sit at this table. 
    • If you have a carpet for group activities and read alouds, find a specific spot that is that student’s ‘spot’ – that way they always know where to go and know when they are sitting there what they will do. You could apply this to group tables too. 
      • If you use the same carpet/table for multiple things (ie: circle time in the morning, read aloud after lunch, and social studies at the end of the day) pick a different spot for each of those activities – for example, when you sit on the front part of the carpet it’s reading, when you sit in the back on the bean bag chair it’s circle, etc.
    • Use different colored tape on the floor to designate certain areas without disrupting your whole room.
    • Utilize more visuals to ‘switch’ the areas. You could set up a pack of visuals and keep in a folder near the front of the room. When you switch subjects, switch the visual posted in the front of the room. 

From yesterday’s post, you have created your list of centers or you already have a list of centers that work for you and your group. Now time to arrange these centers in your classroom to maximize space and make sure everything fits in! This can take a while – you may need to play around a little bit and try some different options. My structure changed every year my first few years but I have had it pretty similar the past few years because I found a set up that really works! Some things to think about:

  • Is there a white board, chalk board, or smart board (luck you!) that you need your big group table near?
  • Think about where the plugs are in your class. I am in a really old building and there are not plugs in all areas of my room. This limits my options for where I put my computers, teacher desk, and kitchen equipment.
  • So besides these stations that need to be in certain areas – ie – group table near white board, computers near plugs/internet etc., play around with the spacing of the other centers. You will probably need a big area for the break area/play area/sensory area so save space for that.
  • Think about your schedules: I will be writing a long post tomorrow about the different types of schedules you can use. The main thing you will need to decide about schedules when structuring your class is how many wall schedules you will need since you will need to set aside some space for these. I have 2 students with wall schedules that I put on either side of the doorway from the coat closet to my room.
  •  For transitions outside of the classroom, how will you have your students wait to leave the room (ie. before lunch, gym, end of day, etc.)? I think it’s totally appropriate (and way easier!) for younger to sit and wait. Try and get a group of 3-6 year olds with autism to stand and wait! Yea right! So you may want a bench or row of chairs near the door. For older kids, it’s not as age appropriate so consider other visuals cues for a stand and wait system. I tape names on the floor so my guys know where to stand.
  • So now dividing the centers – I like using furniture whenever possible! Most stations you will probably need a shelf near by to store materials. Think about what stations you will for sure need a shelf by. In my room I have 4 shelves back to back (2 back to back next to 2 back to back) in the center of my room dividing the room up. 
  • You can also use desks as dividers, plastic dividers, file cabinets, and tables. I got this divider from a grant a few years ago and love it! I use it as a divider for my break area – safe and functional! 
  • I also have these dividers they are pretty flimsy but are good if propped up between desks or tables. I used these near my break area when it needed to be a safe space.
  • Every area should have some visual physical cue that the center is a different and separate space than the center next to it.

Coming up tomorrow: schedules, schedules, and more schedules. I love and hate making these!


  1. Hi there! Thanks so much for all of this information! I am an AUI teacher (k-2 self-contained) and I am getting ready for a new school year. I have basically the same students from last year, a couple of whom were very tough behavior wise. I am ready to re-vamp my classroom and want to set up independent stations for 2 particular students so that they are somewhat separate from the rest of the class. They can both be very aggressive when things don’t go their way. I am taking some of your advice about escape behaviors! Any suggestions about work stations for these particular students? I just want to make the classroom successful and safe for all of my students and assistants. Thanks!

  2. Hi! I love your posts and your TPT store- it has been a lifesaver for me. I am a new teacher in a private special education day school. I work will elementary aged students with Autism and Moderate intellectual disabilities. After my first week, I have realized that my plan for my learning centers is just not effective as it could be. I feel like it is a chaotic time, and that the academics and goals are being missed because of the chaos that is transitioning from one group to another. Do you have any suggestions? I would love to have your feedback.

    Thank you!

  3. What’s chaotic about it? Transitions? Is the work too hard? Are assistants not working with students the way you want them to be? I would evaluate what the issue is to help. If it’s transitions I would look at adding in more visuals/schedules and walking students through the transitions one at a time. It also may just be first craziness as students are learning new routines. 🙂

  4. In your blog series about setting up the classroom, you had a guest that talked about room dividers made from wainscoting. I have looked everywhere and I can’t find a picture or tutorial on how to make them. Does it exist somewhere? Thanks in advance!

  5. Jen did that! She didn’t make a tutorial but I will ask her to!

  6. I like the ideas and plan to utilize them in my classroom.

  7. Love the ideas.

    I am an autism (teacher)facilitator and have a passion for autism.

    How do I become a qualified expert in autism. I have had wonderful results working with autistic learners both young and old through experiential learning.

    I work with a school in a high density location were they have no clue of autism and I have been hired to set up a class or support class for their autistic learners.

    Please advise on how I can go about this adventure.

    Thank you.

    • Hi there! I have my masters in Applied Behavior Analysis and am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst


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