‘Classrooms’ is a theme in the chapters ‘architectural spaces’ and ‘interior design’ (See The recommendations).
Within this theme one recommendation is about building classrooms and three are about their interior design. In all, the architectural aspects of the classroom are represented in more than ten recommendations within all chapters and a considerable number of themes, among which zoning and sightlines.
Elsewhere we proposed three principles guiding architectural adaptations: those aimed at the physical and visual structure, those aimed at social possibilities and limitations and those aimed at the sensory domain.
The physical and visual structure
These should also be clear in classrooms, mainly because of coherence and executive functioning problems. Here the same principles operate as in all common spaces: oversight, clarity of structure, fixed places for furniture and people, well defined zones for specific activities, precluding the possibility that people suddenly appear from behind one’s back.
In view of the educational purposes, the emphasis is strongly on avoiding distractions, and therefore, among other things, on a high degree of predictability. This is easier to realize in special education where, by and large, some 50 to 60% of the students/pupils may be on the spectrum. Generally, more resources are available in special education and class size is smaller too. In regular schools, on the other hand, resources will generally be less, in accordance with a smaller need for special measures. Regular schools and teachers who want to do more or want to review what additional measures are available can find many suggestions in these pages.
The sort of things concerning order in a classroom – which may be rather simple – is well illustrated in an anecdote from the counselors of the Dr. Leo Kannerhuis. Zoning at the level of the classroom, which is rather extensively discussed elsewhere, is one of the paramount methods to achieve this kind of quiet and clarity.
The social sphere
The Autism Toolbox (for regular schools, published by the Scottish government), attached this quote by Martin Hanbury to the chapter on classroom organization:
“for almost any other special need, the classroom only becomes disabling when a demand to perform a given task is made. For the child with autism, disability begins at the door.”
“Walk into any classroom, in any school, and what immediately strikes you? Essentially, that you have entered an infinitely complex and sophisticated social environment. Most of us have found classroom society difficult to cope with at some point in our lives and this should be no surprise. Classrooms can be confusing places with subtle and inconsistent social rules, shifting allegiances and power constantly changing hands. As an antidote to this, children adopt roles within the culture of the classroom, whether it be the joker, the chameleon, the sporting hero, the swot, the social butterfly or the bully. We all look to perform some function in the social mechanism because we have an innate understanding of the social role expected of us and that we expect of others.
However, if you have autism, how do you negotiate this daunting passage of your life? It is difficult enough for those without ASDs, so how much harder must it be for the child whose innate understanding of society is impaired; for the child who doesn’t see what everybody else sees or think the way that everybody else thinks?”
The sensory domain
Over- and under-sensitive senses are of particular importance because, clearly, the sensory burden in most schools is heavy for all and so it is unbearable – or close to it – for those on the spectrum. Regarding the lay-out of classrooms, the most relevant senses are hearing and the sense of touch which includes sensitivity to pain and temperature. Other senses are very important in the classroom too but don’t have special consequences for its lay-out.