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Supporting Students with ASD in Inclusive Settings

student on computer

This article was contributed by Louise Southern, Training Specialist with the Autism Society of North Carolina.

As a consultant and former special education teacher, I have worked in a number of primary and secondary school settings to support students with autism who spend the majority of their day in inclusive settings. Often, these students are characterized as having “high-functioning autism” or are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. In my experience, it is clear that many of these students would not be successful in this context without receiving specific classroom accommodations; in-class monitoring and fly-bys conducted by special education staff; a special education “home base” to go to if the student requires specialized instruction in such areas as social communication, behavior regulation, and curriculum assistance; and frequent and positive collaboration between regular and special education staff. When these things are missing or inadequate, the student suffers. It is important for parents, caregivers, and professionals to be aware of some key accommodations that might be necessary to “level the playing field.”

As we know, many students with autism struggle in inclusive contexts, not because they cannot understand the content, but because they might struggle to process long strings of verbally delivered information, to pay attention, to shift attention and to cue in on the most relevant details, to manage time, and to organize their materials and tasks. For example, when presented with a long-term project, the student with autism might not know where to start, and what to do first. For many students, such tasks need to be broken down into very concrete, manageable steps. With projects and papers at the high school level, standard rubrics may not describe the expectations in terms that are clear enough for the student with autism. For instance, what does “adequate number of examples” or “sufficient detail” mean? In such cases, the student with autism may need a concrete definition to understand and meet the criteria for that assignment, such as “At least 4 examples” or “At least two details from chapters 1-4; two details from chapters 5-8.”

When might a student need accommodations?

  • In instructional contexts (during lecture, group work, presentations, etc.)
  • In homework, project, and paper completion tasks
  • During quizzes and tests
  • When transitioning from one school location to another
  • In the cafeteria, assemblies, and field trips

Below are examples of classroom accommodations to consider:

  • Provide visual to-do lists that break down in very concrete terms what to do in class, how much to do, when finished, and what to do next



__ turn in homework

__ class Spanish Bee

__ workbook p. 99 and 100

__ fill in the blanks

__ read book until bell rings

  • Provide concrete breakdowns of project and paper parts, with short-term deadlines
  • Provide study guides/summary sheets/outlines of important information
  • Provide visual instructions to accompany verbal instructions (e.g., “Everyone get out your book, read pages 29-32, and define terms in yellow”).
  • Check student’s agenda before he or she exits class to ensure accurate recording of homework assignments
  • Provide a set of guided notes prior to lectures
  • Permit reduced length on writing assignments
  • Reduce number of items on tests and homework
  • Test in small groups or in 1:1 contexts
  • Arrange assistance with note taking (i.e., receive a copy of peer notes or a copy of teacher notes after class)
  • Arrange preferential seating away from distracting peers or near teacher
  • Grant extended time on tests and quizzes
  • Arrange early dismissal from class to avoid traffic in hallways
  • Arrange early dismissal to cafeteria before large crowds arrive
  • Grant excusal from large assemblies, meetings, or presentations
  • Provide a lunch pass to eat in classroom rather than in cafeteria
  • Provide a break pass or discrete signal for the student to use when anxious, frustrated, or over-stimulated. Identify a safe place to go or safe person to go to.

Louise Southern can be reached at or 919-743-0204.

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