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8 Strategies for Autistic Students in the Classroom

By Brian Coonley, Director of Professional Learning and Consultation

Last week, the world celebrated the 17th annual Autism Awareness Day, which also kicks off World Autism month. This month focuses on increasing understanding and acceptance of people with Autism. Throughout our history, Gateways has been an active member of the community supporting Autistic students, their families, and the educators that work with them.

Gateways’ Center for Professional Learning (CPL) provides professional learning and coaching for Jewish educators as well as trainings to help schools become more universally designed for Autistic students to participate actively in their Jewish learning. CPL recently released our 2024-2025 catalog, which includes, among other core workshops, sessions on supporting Autistic students in supplementary (Hebrew) schools, day schools, and early learning centers.

As we celebrate World Autism Month, here’s an overview of some of the top supports and strategies for Autistic students that Gateways trainings cover.

1. Lead with curiosity

Autistic students often face barriers when they enter a classroom, and it’s important to remember that Autistic children and their families are your allies in the learning process. Successful support strategies come from the core philosophy of meeting each student where they are. Communicate with each student individually to discover their needs; children often suggest the most valuable ideas for their own support. More than anything else, keep this helpful reframe in mind: if you know one person with Autism, then you know one Autistic person.

2. Use visual supports

Visual supports help with communication, provide points of reference, and serve as cues to help students throughout the learning process. They can be incorporated across a wide variety of classroom routines and activities, including schedules, rubrics, and classroom rules.

3. Set clear expectations

Be clear about what is expected in your classroom; assume that expected behavior may not be obvious or intuitive to every student. This can be as simple as making sure to post directions for activities, establishing (and posting in a visible spot) classroom rules, and providing rubrics for activities.

4. Create (and stick to) routines

Create routines in your classroom that you and the students follow together. Make them explicit, consistent, and easy to follow. Knowing what to expect on a daily basis can alleviate anxiety for Autistic students and set them up for success.

5. Offer breaks

While breaks can be helpful for all students, they are especially beneficial for Autistic children. It is understandable that educators want to maximize the time they have with their students, but Autistic learners will benefit from planned breaks that are announced ahead of time.

6. Curate a welcoming physical space

As you get to know the Autistic student in your classroom, consider how the set-up of your room might help them. The classroom should be a space where students are comfortable and feel safe. Be attuned to an Autistic student’s sensory needs and plan your space accordingly. Maybe this student has a designated spot or chair that they can access if they are overstimulated, or maybe they are seated further away from loud stimuli like bells or alarms.

7. Provide choice

Choice — something that Gateways often recommends for supporting any student in a classroom — proves an essential tool for Autistic students. Where possible, provide choices throughout the learning process, whether in how students express their knowledge, where they sit, or even something as simple as what color marker they use.

8. Plan transitions

Transitions can be hard for Autistic students, and preparing for them is an essential part of supporting Autistic learners. Think about all the transitions that happen in your regular classroom routine, including movement from one activity to the next or from physical space to space. Set aside time for transitions and provide verbal and visual warnings to students when a transition is coming up.

These are only a sampling of the many supports and strategies available for Autistic learners. In our trainings, Gateways expands on these strategies and provides more opportunities for learning how to support Autistic students. Our Center for Professional Learning is happy to come to your community to help you assess how best to support neurodivergent and Autistic children. To learn more about our training or coaching services, you can email or review our 2024-2025 catalog.