Classroom Tools for Students on the Autism Spectrum – Jenny Wise

When you think about the average classroom, you may assume each student in the class is following the same lesson plan. Teachers prepare the lesson plans ahead of time, and they generally guide the class as a group through whatever topic or skill they are working on. This is not always the case in a special education classroom where each student is working from their own IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Because every student is working on their own plan and towards goals based on their own unique needs, many teachers of special education students use alternative lesson plans. These alternative lesson plans focus not only on the activities for the day, but also the data that needs to be collected for each student’s progress.

Some children on the autism spectrum have limited verbal skills, so they depend on the use of tools like a visual schedule or a “first, then, next” schedule to guide them through a short lesson in class. Another tool that can be useful for a younger child on the spectrum or someone who is nonverbal is the use of the choice board. All of these tools require the use of picture cards to enable communication without the need for words.

Visual tools are useful for many kids on the spectrum, whether or not they are verbal. Because they often struggle with things like personal space and more socially-based “rules,” visual aides are helpful in instilling these types of lessons. It may be beneficial to find lessons that incorporate lots of visuals in order to engage students.

An example of a visual lesson would be the Circles Program. This colorful and simple chart is not only useful for the first lesson, but also a great tool for reminders as needed. The basic premise is that the circles represent the level of relationships with the child and a level of acceptable interactions that would go along with them. Using the radiating circles as visual aides is easy to understand and shows kids that someone close to them, like a family member, may be accepting of a form of physical contact like a hug, but someone like a stranger is not familiar enough to them to be hug-worthy.

When looking for ideas for either activities or lesson plans for students on the spectrum, keep in mind that many of the students will have needs that require lessons tied to subjects you do not normally see in traditional classrooms. This may include things like adaptive skills, social skills, and even basic personal care. Repetition is often the key to this type of lesson plan.

Children on the spectrum also often use this type of repetitive play to learn a new skill. An example of this would be a classroom lesson that asks the students to create social story book turned comic book. The hand-drawn book stars the student in a scripted and common social interaction. The student can practice the script and apply it to the scenario in the comic book.

Many resources even include free lesson plans and other resources for teachers to borrow. Most of the sources suggest finding or creating a lesson plan template that works for the unique needs of both the students and the program.

About Jenny Wise

Jenny homeschools her four awesome children. As any homeschooling parent knows, every day is an adventure, and Jenny has begun chronicling her experiences at She hopes to use the site to connect with other homeschoolers and to provide helpful advice to parents who may be considering a home education for their kids.