Creating a classroom in the house

Every year as vacations roll around, students and teachers begin to get very excited. They talk about where they are going to go and what they are going to do.

The teacher remembered years ago when she was working in a behavior intervention unit for children that were struggling with their personal lives. One little girl had been horribly abused. She was in foster care and vacations were an unpredictable scary time. When Judy came to school after a two week vacation, the teacher knew something was off with the child. She couldn’t figure out what it was at first and then she saw it. Judy had pulled out all of her eyelashes.

The teacher realized Judy needed constant structure. The girl required predictability. She literally needed to know what comes next. Certainly, nothing can be perfectly planned for anyone. However, for many children with special needs, helping prepare for the unknown can be critical.

For students with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) understanding what comes next is important. School routines help a child function and learn in an organized environment. Having a routine can be essential. Schedules are a major method which can foster the learning environment.

With vacations on the horizon, creating a predictable environment at home can help a child calm down especially with all the holiday activities ahead. During the holidays, consider setting up your child’s bedroom as a miniature classroom. First, place a daily schedule on the child’s bedroom door. Have one column on the schedule state “start” and the other side state “finished.”

Put a sun on the right side with the word morning and a setting sun for the afternoon. Morning activities can include timers to limit how long a child is expected to be doing the work. Example work activities can include: breakfast, hygiene, reading/library, choice (television time, toys, IPAD etc), computer academic time, writing, lunch, sensory time, independent work, math time, science activity (cooking), puzzle time, physical education, dinner, bath time and bedtime.

You can have schedules change to include visits to the grocery store visits and mall or a trip to a local restaurant, too.

Once a daily schedule is developed, consider organizing the child’s room to follow the schedule. Label each area with icons. The sections can include sensory (sensory toys such as light ups, spinning toys, squishy balls or big soft balls), library (shelf with books), a computer/ desk area, a puzzle section, and a toy shelf labeled play etc. You can get little open crates to organize activities such as math, reading and writing by a desk. Labeling the bed, desk, computer, and bookshelves with the corresponding icons that match the schedule helps a child understand what is expected of them.

Once the work is done, new activities can be easily added to the shelves and crates in the room. A special activity like going to Burger King or a visit to the dollar store can become a powerful incentive to keep a child organized and on track. A child following a schedule when school is out (even just week-ends) helps them understand routine. It can also aid a parent to discover where a child needs additional help.

Routines help many children avoid melt downs especially with all the surprises that come with the holidays. Social stories can also help children understand what is expected of them. The more organized and predictable a home is for the ASD child, the more likely the child will excel to the best of his or her God given abilities.

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at