The Effects of a Rotating Classroom Schedule on Classroom Crisis Events in a School for Autism

By Jewell, Jeremy D.; Grippi, Amanda et al. | North American Journal of Psychology, March 2007 | Go to article overview

The Effects of a Rotating Classroom Schedule on Classroom Crisis Events in a School for Autism


Jewell, Jeremy D., Grippi, Amanda, Hupp, Stephen D. A., Krohn, Emily J., North American Journal of Psychology


Because children with autism often insist on sameness, teachers minimize the number of changes experienced throughout the day. This study examined the effects of a rotating classroom schedule on the behaviors of children attending a school for children with autism. Archival data, 6 months prior to classroom rotation and 6 months after classroom rotation, were analyzed for 81 children and adolescents attending a school for youth with autism. Fifty-one of these participants did not have any crisis events either before or after classroom rotation. Results from nonparametric tests indicated no statistically significant change in number of crisis events or time in crisis after rotation was implemented. Limitations of the study and the implications for educational planning for students with autism are discussed.

Children diagnosed with autism present unique challenges in the school environment. For instance, children with autism are not concerned with monitoring their behavior to gain social approval. Social praise often fails to reinforce appropriate behavior. Due to social withdrawal they often do not learn information presented by teachers (Iovannone, Dunlap, Huber, & Kincaid, 2003). Language impairments can make communication with teachers and peers very difficult. Researchers note that changes in the daily routine may prompt tantrums and aggressive behavior (Reese, Richman, Zarcone, & Zarcone, 2003). Therefore, teachers and parents are often advised to minimize the number of changes experienced throughout the day.

Researchers have investigated the impact of reducing the setting's amount of stimulation on the behavior of autistic children. Harrison and Barabasz (1991) examined the notion that autism is best characterized as an abnormal reaction to stimuli. Their study is an extension of Suedfeld and Schwarz' (1984) research on Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) that examined the effect of stimulus restriction on autistic symptomology. In Harrison & Barabasz' study (1991), the low stimulation (REST) room was approximately 270 square feet with no furniture except for a ceiling video camera, mattress, and toilet. The high stimulation room was approximately 530 square feet and contained four windows, a black board, two mattresses, a variety of furniture, toys, and a radio or television. Six males and six females ages six years to twenty years participated in the study for six consecutive weekends, for a total of 34 hours. The researchers used a 200 square foot, highly stimulating room for pre and post treatment interaction assessments. Overall, there were no significant effects for REST. However, the researchers found a significant positive within-group effect for older participants as well as participants with less severe autism. Therefore, older and less severe children with autism seemed to benefit from restricted environmental stimulation. Older children may benefit more from restricted environments because they have learned more coping skills that add to the effect. In addition, these results suggest that the deficits in children with more severe autism have broader deficits than an abnormal reaction to stimuli.

A similar study by Duker and Rasing (1989) suggests that reducing environmental stimulation may reduce self-stimulatory behaviors. This study examined a small classroom of three males with autistic-like behavior ages 16 to 26. In a multiple-baseline experiment, the researchers altered the physical environment of their existing classroom in order to make it less stimulating. This was accomplished by removing a "snug" corner and all decorations from the walls, the windows, and the ceiling. Also, all boards, sinks, and the teacher's desks were covered in sheets of the same color. The teacher was required to wear a dress of the same color as the sheets and was not allowed to wear any kind of jewelry. As predicted, self-stimulatory behavior decreased during the less stimulating conditions while on-task behavior increased. …

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