What are Autism Units?
An ‘autism unit’ is a very broad and specific classroom whose purpose is to create a structured and predictable environment to improve the understanding of students with ASD and to facilitate their participation on the activities of the mainstream centre where they are physically located. It is a specific unit of special education attended by students, prior opinion of schooling, with educational specific attention needs arising from the autism spectrum disorder or social communication disorder.
Within this model of schooling, autism-specific support can be provided in a variety of educational contexts, with great variability in the time spent within the autism-specific unit and within the mainstream classroom. Often, this is especially useful for those with autism who also have intellectual disability, and this allows those students to share as many activities as possible with students without disabilities (such as gym, leisure-time, music or meals) while, at the same time, they can receive extra support in the autism unit.
Autism Units are a flexible modality in the sense that, when one of the students has milder intellectual difficulties, one of the teachers (or teaching support staff) can accompany that student to the mainstream classrooms to give him/her specific support.
Ideally, this modality is intended to function more as a small centre of resources within a mainstream school, fully integrated with all the activities of the school, rather than an isolated space for those with autism.
The classroom communication and language allows flexible timing of individualized attention and inclusion within the mainstream classroom by means of customized schedules and shared activities with students from mainstream classrooms.Autism Units are very extended across Europe, although the name used for this modality of schooling varies from one region to another. Some of the names used are: stable classrooms, open classrooms, communication and language classrooms, autism classroom and many others.