Seven Steps for Setting up a Stellar Autism Classroom: Organization and Planning

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


Organization and Planning

It’s a daunting tasks setting up an autism classroom or appropriately integrating students with autism in to general education setting. Students with autism are all so different and have a vast array of needs. Many of these learners need to be taught individually. It can seem impossible to effectively teach a group of such different students when so many of us our understaffed. Before starting to set up the physical structure of your room or making any schedules, you need to plan out what your students will be working on, how they will be working on these tasks, and what types of centers your classroom needs.

Sit down with all of your student’s IEP goals. Start to figure out which students have similar goals and could be grouped together. Also – how many adults do you have? Is it you by yourself? Do you have aides? Are any aides assigned to only one student? That’s key. If you have aides assigned to your whole classroom- make sure you have centers that they can run! Here are some things to consider:

  • My classroom dynamic has changed considerably over the years. When I started I had more academic learners and then I had a few years where I had more learners working on more life skills, functional skills, and pre-academic work. Now I have an almost even half and half. Figure out where most of your learners are – do you need more academic centers, centers to work on functional skills, or centers that can be used for both?
  • Will you be having a desk for each student? I have in the past but I currently don’t. Since my group is so diverse I never teach the whole group together. I have a morning group “lima bean shaped” table that can seat 5-7 students. I also have other big tables in the middle of the room and when we have birthday parties, seasonal parties, etc we all sit at the tables in the middle of the room. I don’t really have room for 10 desks. Your room might! You could use desks to form your “morning group/morning circle” table and that’s a great way to have a big group meeting area and also a desk for each student. Also if you will  be using binder schedules, you can store them on or in each kids’ desk – if not you will need another space for binders.
  • The decision that goes along with the desk decision is – will you be doing the traditional TEACHH 3-bin work task? If not, what type of independent work system will you be using? When I first started teaching, I had a 3-bin work task for each student because I wasn’t really sure of what else to do. I think the 3-bin is great for learners who need that structure and routine. I also think this works great in a general ed room because it can be easily set up. However, I soon realized that it was not functional for my class to have 10 3-bin work tasks – it took up WAY too much room. And many of my students did not need that much structure. I now have one 3-bin work task set up that 2 of my students use. Yes – they use the same one. Don’t tattle on me! I know that not how it’s “supposed” to be – but throw caution to the wind – do what works for you! Sharing one works for me! The rest of my kids use this system for independent work tasks (purchase it here). It takes up only 2 book shelves and my kids sit at the tables in the middle of the room (the same one we use when we have parties etc – love some good multi tasking!). What other things can your students do independently? Journals, puzzles, games, – these may need to be stored in a central area.

  •  So you’ve decided what type of independent work tasks system you want and if you will have a desk for each student. Now about schedules – one pro of having a desk for each student is there is an automatic place to keep binder schedules and other daily work (journals etc.). If not you will need a space to keep these or if you are doing wall schedules a place for wall schedules.
  • Consider how much space you need for your teacher desk. I never sit at mine during the day but I do need a lot of storage around mine.
  • Will you be having kitchen equipment in your class for cooking activities? How big will the groups be you will be cooking with? Whole group, small group? The kitchen equipment should be near a table that can accompany that size group.
  • How many PECS books and AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) devices do your students have? You will need a place for these to be out throughout the day. Another pro of a desk per student.
  • Where will the kids put their backpacks and coats? Lockers, closet?
  • My approach to a sensory area: Some classrooms have a designated “sensory area.” Mine doesn’t. Again don’t tattle! It’s one of those things you are “supposed” to have. In my class, I think it’s way more functional to embed sensory breaks throughout the day. Sensory is also included in our break area. The way many students will autism take a ‘break’ is with a sensory break. Our break area includes our therapy balls, sensory toys, trampoline etc. (fine – I guess technically my break area is my sensory area!). Other sensory items that are messy and can’t be left in break area (rice bin, bean bin, sand bin, play-doh, theraputty, shaving cream, etc.) is in a shelf near the center tables and these items are included on all choice boards so my students can work for these items. That way these items work as a sensory break and reinforcer in one.
  • The other thing to consider with your break area – will this area be used as a “safe space” or calming area for students who are aggressive? If so this will completely change the way you set up this area. I had a new student last year that needed a safe space like this. I previously had a small shelf with small toys, blocks, and balls in my break area along with a few baskets of books. I removed all of these items to a space nearby the break area. Students could bring these items into the break area to use but these things were not stored here. That way when this space needed to be used as a calming down area – it was void of potential dangerous items. I also had previously used large metal shelves as dividers. This was also potentially dangerous so I had to replace these with soft dividers. So depending on the needs of your students, decide what type of break area you can have.
  • So once you have considered all of these aspects: make a list of the centers you will have in your classroom. Make sure you have enough that your students will be occupied all day and IEP goals will get met but also don’t have too many that you don’t have enough room! If many of your students can work together (have similar goals and are able to work cooperatively), you could have less stations since you will be able to work in larger groups. You may be able to combine some later on once you get to arranging the room.
    • Here are my stations:
      • closet for backpacks/coats (and storage)
      • low shelf for binder schedules and PECS books/AAC device
      • teacher time: table for direct instruction
      • break area
      • computers
      • teacher desk
      • reading: station that is run by an aide; used for running guided reading for higher students and fine motor goals for lower functioning students
      • language (fluency station): another station that is run by aide; students do fluency timings on flashcards (higher functioning students do math facts, money, sight words, time, and sometimes articulation and lower functioning students do expressive picture flashcards to build vocabulary, letter/number identification, and articulation)
      • one 3 bin work station
      • morning group (kitchen equipment is next to this)
      • table time – independent work system
      • factory – 2 additional independent work tasks that are changed out each week

So you’ve made your list of stations! Tomorrow learn how to structure these stations within your classroom so it’s structured and understandable to your kids!



  1. I work with special ed students on a small island in the Dutch Caribbean. I also have students on the autism spectrum in my class.
    I got your website from a friend in NY. I lived in NY for 25 years and worked in the Life Skills class.
    I moved to this island in 2010.
    I love the way you give tips how to setup the room.
    I can definitely use your ideas.
    Helen Hassell

  2. I have just discovered your website and I simply love it! I have moved from mainstream to ed support this year so am basically starting over with many, many classroom aspects. Your blog and ideas are an inspiration, thank you for sharing and long may it continue 🙂

  3. Aw thank you so much! That means a lot!!

  4. I just watched your video on the Independent Workstation and you blew my mind!! I am going to be teaching an Autism class starting in Sept. and I want to have ALL of those activities ready. AMAZING!

  5. Thank you so much! Hope it helps in your planning!

  6. I as wondering can you say that factory, table time and 3 bin work is like independent work for your students?

  7. Yes – all three are independent work systems!

  8. Thank you so much for this information. I am a K-2 special education teacher and I’m having a hard time setting up my classroom. I found your website on Pinterest and ITS GIVING ME LIFE EIGHT NOW! I appreciate everything. Keep up the great work!


  9. SO great to hear! Good luck 🙂

  10. How did you attach the PVC pipe to the wall to hold the large balls?

  11. All of your ideas and information have really helped me so far this school year. I have been allowed to start an Autism classroom in my k-3 building. I am kind of under the spotlight, to make sure my set-up and curriculum are working (no pressure, right?) so that our district will agree that we are in need of more classrooms like mine throughout the district. I have 10 kids that I see throughout the day that are all on the spectrum. I have only one para that is with me for a total of 2 hours during the day. Needless to say it has been very overwhelming. I would love to send you some pics of how my room is setup and get your input. Would that be okay?

    Thanks again for all your wonderful ideas and advise 🙂

  12. I would love to have this information in some type of PDF to share with the teachers in our district! Giving them a hard copy is the best way to make sure they utilize the information 🙂 Do you have a document like that I could share? Thanks!

  13. Thanks for the detail guidelines.

  14. I am going to be teaching a class of 8 6/7 yr olds with various needs including autism. Our classroom is in a portacabin, very small and I have been told that I can’t put anything on the walls because it is distracting for autistic children. I find the room very uninspiring. I wondered if u could comment on this?

  15. Hmm.. I would make sure that everything on the wall is function (ie. schedules, visuals, anchor charts, etc.) but you can still make those look nice!! I would clarify with admin that the items on the wall are all functional.

  16. Thank you for your podcasts and your blogs. As a Self contained teacher there are very few teachers who can truly realize the dynamics and variety that we have to “plan” for, (not all of my students are on the Autism Spectrum). I am still learning so much…thank you for the life line!

  17. Happy to hear that, Patricia! Thank you for sharing!

  18. This is really useful, thank you! Can I just check if centres and stations are the same thing? Is the term used interchangeably?

  19. Yep! 🙂

  20. I have been inspired as to how to set up my room for autistic students.


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