Children, and especially autistic children, need a “hook” to hang their focus on, in learning processes. Otherwise, we perceive them as being unfocused, unengaged, and interrupting, and, often, these are the children that end up with school dissatisfaction, have a challenging behavior and/or become more absent from school activities because of a lack of meaning and relations. By taking the special profile of autistic children as a starting point, we have learned a lot about how we can organize learning environments that accommodate diversity.
What We Have Learned from Autistic Children
Based on autistic children, we have investigated and developed our material with the purpose of providing inspiration to design playful learning environments that allows all children to hang their attention on and enable them to participate in social communities. From research and practice, we know that crucial factors that allows the well-being, learning, and development of autistic people are:
- Good preparation time and help to move the attention, e.g. through motivation.
- Clarity, transparency, and doing one thing at a time.
- Clear and calm communication.
- Time to process information – be patient.
- Involvement and meaningfulness rather than demands, rewards, and punishment.
- Adjustment of sensory stimuli within the environment and brain breaks.
- Making the implicit and abstract concrete and explicit, e.g., through reflection routines.
- An understanding of a different neurology and how challenging behavior can often be a sign of frustration towards a learning environment that is adjusted.
Autistic children need that these factors are part of the learning environment, although all children will benefit from them likewise. On the basis of this, we have obtained an approach to learning that enables us to design learning environments that meet the needs and prerequisites of the children.
Learning is best supported through motivating learning environments that make the children want to engage in and reflect on their learning with others. For teaching, this entails the following changes:
- From traditional teacher-led teaching to more student-led, co-creating, and creative learning environments.
- From working with learning goals by setting certain tasks to facilitating motivating experiences and from this supporting learning discoveries.
- From normative learning goals to meaningful learning and vitality where indicators of learning are ownership, curiosity, possibility thinking, and desire to learn.
- From being an omniscient teacher to being a guide and supervisor who can didacticize anything.
Our hope is that others will also see the children’s curiosity as a source for deep learning processes. We believe that an increased focus on motivation, exploration, and ownership in the primary school’s learning activities will create better learning conditions for all children.