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Is Montessori a Good Choice for Students with Special Needs Such as Autism

written by: Keren Perles•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 9/30/2012

The Montessori-special education link has not been studied extensively, but there are several reasons to assume that students with special needs, especially those with autism, would thrive in a Montessori environment. Here’s why.

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    Sensory Stimulation

    The Montessori Method is rife with sensory stimulation, which is one of the most important aspects of education for many students with special needs Many of the toys contain various textures, colors, and patterns, which can be beneficial for teaching students on the autistic spectrum, as well as students with various other disabilities.

    At the same time, a teacher of Montessori special education should be conscious that many students with disabilities such as autism are also sensitive to certain sensory stimulations. Therefore, they may react negatively to scratchy materials, bright lights, or sudden noises.

    Toys used in a Montessori classroom should be carefully evaluated, and are introduced slowly to a student with special needs – or not at all. For example, many Montessori classrooms use cloth blindfolds to help students isolate their tactile sensations. For students with autism and other sensory issues, however, teachers may want to substitute silk handkerchiefs or other materials.

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    Practical Life Activities

    Because many of the Montessori activities relate to practical life, students with special needs can gain life skills from a Montessori approach. In addition, many of these activities include gross motor and fine motor skill practice, improving hand-eye coordination. They also help students develop an awareness of their body in space, which is one developmental ability that many students on the autistic spectrum, as well as ADHD, struggle with.

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    Predictable, Yet Flexible, Routine

    The Montessori Method also promotes the importance of a predictable routine, which can greatly benefit students. Those on the autistic spectrum thrive on routine, and any deviance from what is expected can be extremely difficult for them to accept. In addition, although the overall day is heavily structured, students are free to explore the concepts that appeal to them. This may be particularly helpful for some students, especially those with Asperger’s Disorder, who often have a special interest that they enjoy exploring. These students are free to explore that interest much more in a Montessori special education classroom than in a typical classroom.