Creating an Age-Appropriate Middle School Autism Classroom

Age- appropriateness means that we are taking our students ages in to consideration when planning the materials we use.  Although my students might love Little Einstein, it’s not exactly appropriate to keep Little Einstein books in my room.   In the same way that we want to assume ability of our students, we want to assume that same awareness of their age. Being that many of us have students whom are at academic levels that do not match their ages, it can be tough to find materials and activities that are age-appropriate while still meeting their needs.  The next challenge is that, while you may find age-appropriate materials, they may not be the most exciting or motivating to use.  But trust me, with a little thought it can be very easy create a more "grown up" classroom.

I know, it's tempting.  It's so easy to get sucked in to the cutesy clipart on that counting worksheet you found online.  Maybe you have accepted defeat that the only app you can find to teach the alphabet features Dora the Explorer.  I have been there (and yes I have caved myself).  Even, so we should always keep in mind how important it is to maintain an age-appropriate secondary autism classroom.

Age- appropriateness means that we are taking our students ages in to consideration when planning the materials we use.  Although my students might love Little Einstein, it’s not exactly appropriate to keep Little Einstein books in my room.   In the same way that we want to assume ability of our students, we want to assume that same awareness of their age. Being that many of us have students whom are at academic levels that do not match their ages, it can be tough to find materials and activities that are age-appropriate while still meeting their needs.  The next challenge is that, while you may find age-appropriate materials, they may not be the most exciting or motivating to use.  But trust me, with a little thought it can be very easy create a more "grown up" classroom.


Age- appropriateness means that we are taking our students ages in to consideration when planning the materials we use.  Although my students might love Little Einstein, it’s not exactly appropriate to keep Little Einstein books in my room.   In the same way that we want to assume ability of our students, we want to assume that same awareness of their age.
Being that many of us have students whom are at academic levels that do not match their ages, it can be tough to find materials and activities that are age-appropriate while still meeting their needs.  The next challenge is that, while you may find age-appropriate materials, they may not be the most exciting or motivating to use.  But trust me, with a little thought it can be very easy create a more "grown up" classroom.  Take a look at some ways I keep my classroom age appropriate while still making it fun an engaging:

Academic Materials

Although our students may not have the reading skills to access advanced reading materials, they still may be able to understand more advanced concepts.  There are many curriculum materials that are  age-appropriate for adolescence but written with picture symbols and at a lower reading level.  News-2-You usually has topics that are of high interest yet appropriate for older students, while still giving them access to print at the level they need.  Attainment has really great curriculum that is suitable for teens.  Thanks to the Attainment curriculum, my students have read adapted versions of the novels Holes and The Outsiders.  They also have math curriculum that teaches to Common Core Standards and introduces them to more advanced math vocabulary while teaching at a lower level.

Age- appropriateness means that we are taking our students ages in to consideration when planning the materials we use.  Although my students might love Little Einstein, it’s not exactly appropriate to keep Little Einstein books in my room.   In the same way that we want to assume ability of our students, we want to assume that same awareness of their age. Being that many of us have students whom are at academic levels that do not match their ages, it can be tough to find materials and activities that are age-appropriate while still meeting their needs.  The next challenge is that, while you may find age-appropriate materials, they may not be the most exciting or motivating to use.  But trust me, with a little thought it can be very easy create a more "grown up" classroom.

Work Tasks

Just because many of our students are still learning basic skills does not mean they should have tasks that are babyish.  It might be easy to use a baby toy when your student needs to learn simple sequencing, but it is not keeping his age in mind.  It’s super easy to create work tasks where students have students sort items like soda cans, labels, or fast food logos which can be age appropriate.  Students can categorize grocery coupons or items by where we keep them in the kitchen.  There are plenty of ways to practice the more basic life skills.  Be creative!

Age- appropriateness means that we are taking our students ages in to consideration when planning the materials we use.  Although my students might love Little Einstein, it’s not exactly appropriate to keep Little Einstein books in my room.   In the same way that we want to assume ability of our students, we want to assume that same awareness of their age. Being that many of us have students whom are at academic levels that do not match their ages, it can be tough to find materials and activities that are age-appropriate while still meeting their needs.  The next challenge is that, while you may find age-appropriate materials, they may not be the most exciting or motivating to use.  But trust me, with a little thought it can be very easy create a more "grown up" classroom.

Classroom Setup

Yes, you can still have center and rotations that the students have to work through.  Since our students are older they need a setup that is suitable for older students.  Make sure tables and chairs are large enough for students that are already the size of typical adults.  If your students are used to desks, you could always try tables instead (similar to the type you may have had in your high school science class).  Students schedules can be housed inside of a binder rather than having wall schedules.
Your break area is a great place to begin with making more age appropriate.  Just this year I upgraded from a tiny rug to a larger rug and we added a futon so my students would not have to sit on the floor.  I also make sure to have my break area stocked with games and toys that are age appropriate, such as Dominos and UNO playing cards.
Age- appropriateness means that we are taking our students ages in to consideration when planning the materials we use.  Although my students might love Little Einstein, it’s not exactly appropriate to keep Little Einstein books in my room.   In the same way that we want to assume ability of our students, we want to assume that same awareness of their age. Being that many of us have students whom are at academic levels that do not match their ages, it can be tough to find materials and activities that are age-appropriate while still meeting their needs.  The next challenge is that, while you may find age-appropriate materials, they may not be the most exciting or motivating to use.  But trust me, with a little thought it can be very easy create a more "grown up" classroom.

The But

Please keep in mind that age-appropriateness does not mean taking away things that the student likes simply because it doesn’t match up with their chronological age.  One of the trickiest conversations I sometimes have with parents usually begins with them stating that they want their child to stop having “babyish” interests.  I don’t know about you, but I would be pretty pissed if somebody came along and told me I couldn't like something for some inane reason.  Besides, there’s no real way to “force” somebody to stop liking something!

What do I do in the situations where students love things that don’t exactly line up with their age? 
  • Use their interests as a motivating reinforcer
  • Change the presentation
  • Expose them to more age appropriate hobbies and/or things that are meant for all ages
  • Let them do their thing when appropriate
How do you make your classroom more age-appropriate for your students?  Do you find it challenging to find materials that are age-appropriate?

9 comments

  1. Thank you for this!!! I just got my first teaching job in a middle school self-contained class, and most of my experience is at the elementary level, so age-appropriateness is a struggle for me!

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    1. Thank you! I'm so happy that you found it helpful!

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  2. This is great! I just finished my first year with a life skills class and I tried to make it as age appropriate as possible. This helped assure me that I'm on the right track. Thank you!

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  3. Erica, so glad to hear it confirmed any doubts for you!

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  4. Thank you for this post! I just finished my second year in a middle-school life skills classroom and have been struggling to make it age appropriate. This just help motivate me continue to build the best, age appropriate classroom.

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  5. I completely agree! I have been a middle school life skills teacher for 4 years now and was recently transferred to a new school due to rezoning. I was shocked when I walked into my new room and found it full of pre-k type toys and materials. There was precious little age appropriate material for 6-8th grade students. I think it is incredibly important that we expose our students to age appropriate materials. We are the educators, it's our job to push our kids beyond their comfort zone.

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  6. Kayla I love your comment! Age appropriateness can seem like a constant battle with some of the adults I work with.

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  7. Do you have experience with any secondary curriculum for students with Autism other than news 2 you?

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    1. My school ordered several pieces from Attainment's curriculum. They have a reading program that features adapted books for young adults such as Holes, The Outsiders, etc. and outlines how to differentiate the books to different levels. It's not perfect (which is the case with most adapted curriculum), but I feel like it's a good starting point.

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