Brain compatible learning environments for students with autism spectrum disorders
Gaines, Kristi Scott
The challenge of providing learner-centered environments is complicated by the increase in the prevalence of students with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Federal law requires that students with ASD are to be educated in the general education classrooms to the fullest extent possible. The majority of children with ASD have hypersensitivities with heightened senses. Rapid shifting of attention between two stimuli is difficult, and abnormal sensory processing can cause individuals with autism to exhibit unusual behaviors. The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between the design of the visual and acoustical learning environments on the behavior of students with (ASD). A mixed method approach using a focus group and questionnaire directed at special education teachers in Texas was used. The questionnaire was administered electronically through SurveyMonkey. Several sensory triggers were found to have a negative impact on the behavior of students with ASD. Aside from classrooms, large open spaces such as cafeterias, gyms, and outdoor play areas were selected most often as potential sensory problem areas. The main visual triggers were found to be visual changes and distraction, undefined space and source of light. Keeping the classroom tidy and orderly and reducing moving stimuli were found to reduce problems associated with visual triggers. The most commonly selected sound triggers included sudden unexpected sound and higher pitch sound. Music and nature sounds were found to reduce the impact of sound triggers within the classroom. This study should increase understanding in the design of the built teaching environment and its impact on children’s behavior. In turn, the findings may be used in developing guidelines for school design. Through design and management of built learning environments, undesirable sensory environmental responses may be reduced or eliminated. Little research exists concerning the relationship between the built environment and behavior for students with autism spectrum disorders. This study should highlight some of the issues and contribute to greater understanding of the impact of the built environment on students with ASD.