Classroom Displays:  How Much Is Too Much?

Michelle Morgado, MA, CCC-SLP | Speech-Language Pathologist
January 9, 2019

The ability to focus and sustain attention to relevant information is important for learning in the classroom and for academic achievement. The more time spent focused on a task, the better the learning outcome. Studies have shown that during learning tasks, children look at the teacher when listening, but look away when thinking. Children on the autism spectrum also modulate their gaze to looking away when thinking. However, these children show atypicalities of gaze when listening, meaning more gaze aversion when listening.

Photo by Michelle Morgado, MA, CCC-SLP

According to a study by Hanley et al. (2017), classrooms with too much visual displays increased the likelihood of attention being directed “off task” and can impact learning. This was especially true for children with autism since attention is characterized by a lack of social priority and increased interest in nonsocial stimuli.  

Considering the tendency for children with autism to prioritize nonsocial over social information for attention in the context of a classroom, it may mean that classroom displays capture attention more readily than a teacher.

Things to consider:

  • Minimize, not eliminate, displays on the walls of classrooms and therapy rooms.
  • Too much and too little complexity is linked to poorer learning outcomes.
  • Think about the type of display rather than the number of displays. Certain types of displays are less distracting than others.
  • Older children can handle more types of display than younger children. As children get older, they get better at sustaining attention for longer periods and become less susceptible to interference from irrelevant distractors.


Hanley, M., Khairat, M., Taylor, K., Wilson, R., Cole-Fletcher, R., & Riby, D. M. (2017, May 4). Classroom Displays—Attraction or Distraction? Evidence of Impact on Attention and Learning From Children With and Without Autism. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication.


Photo by Michelle Morgado, MA, CCC-SLP

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