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Transitions and Barriers: The Environment

Autism can create barriers, we as teachers can also unwittingly create barriers. We must take a moment to consider our actions and decisions in terms of how they may create issues for those we are responsible for educating. The environment is also a source of barriers for some of our students.

Audio Narration here:

A lot of these barriers are caused by transition, transition is change. Whether this be a change in location, activity, staff or students in the room. All of these things and more are a source of uncertainty and anxiety.

To give an example the picture below is the doorway between two rooms. There is no actual door so no physical barrier, right? Well not for most of us, not even for most of my students all of whom have a diagnosis of ASD. However for one young man this represents a barrier as real to him as the second image would for me. It is a visual barrier that he processes as real.

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Example of visual barrier

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I have previously taught a young man for whom the doorway itself was a huge barrier, he wanted to go outside but had to seek reassurance from staff for up to 20 minutes to prepare himself for the transition. He had to stand in the doorway, walk up to and back from it repeatedly. We used symbols, a schedule and verbal support. This support was as essential to him as a key would be for us to open a locked door. I am only using my experience as evidence for this but the biggest support was his trust in us that nothing would change when walking through the doorway.

Knowing the child you are working with is essential in supporting them through these transitions. I have had children who wont transition between areas because they are hyper sensitive to the fluorescent lights or the hum of the fridge. Some of our students are able to verbalise their thoughts and concerns, others are not yet at this stage. I remember my first encounter with this different way of processing sensory input – I am not going to use sensory processing disorder in this case because it opened my eyes to the fact that what I presume are the distractions are, well, nothing more than presumptions. The young man said to me “listen to the helicopter”. This was in the middle of a busy, noisy classroom with music on. I couldn’t hear a helicopter so after a minute or so of  straining to pick up the sound I heard the faint whirr of the rotors. Soon it flew past the window. 65% of people with a diagnosis of ASD are sensitive to noise.

Helicopter fire

How many of us think that by standing at the front of the room talking makes us the centre of attention? If as special education teachers we think this we really deserve to be ignored.

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The Author in standard teacher at the front mode.



6 thoughts on “Transitions and Barriers: The Environment”

  1. Reminds me of when I was teaching a boy with ASD who kept making random squawking noises which was frankly quite frustrating when others in the class were relatively calm. It wasn’t until a few months later while I was walking in the woods near my home and I heard the exact same noise. Looking around to see if I could see the boy, I realised it was a bird in the nearby tree. It amazed me how well he had copied this sound, one at the time I have never heard before. Now whenever I go walking in the woods and I hear this squawking it reminds me of this boy with ASD.

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