This year, back to school is just one of the many things that looks much different than most of us are used to. For many students around the country, going back to classes in person won’t be happening for the foreseeable future as districts across the United States continue with distance learning provisions put in place last spring when the coronavirus pandemic hit in North America. Distance learning poses challenges for all kinds of students, but for children with autism, those challenges can be even more impactful. Here, we’ve gathered some of the best tips around for parents looking to help children with autism navigate the struggles of distance learning.
1. Create a productive workspace. Finding a good place to work from home can be difficult for all of us, adults and kids alike. For children with autism, however, it’s even more important to create a quiet, peaceful, and distraction-free space for school work. You should also be sure to use the same space for school work every day to establish consistency and routine in your child’s new at-home school environment.
2. Set a routine—and stick to it. Routine is important for all kids, but especially for children with autism. Before embarking on a new semester of distance learning, take some time to work out what your child’s new school routine will look like. What times of day will school work be completed and where? What about homework? Make sure that break times are regular and predictable too. And, finally, consider typing the schedule out and posting it somewhere you and your child can easily refer to it throughout the week.
3. Review your child’s IEP. Distance learning doesn’t mean that your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) goes out the window. Review your child’s IEP and schedule a time to chat with their teachers, whether it’s on the phone or video chat, to go over the plan and get advice for how you can help implement it during distance learning.
4. Set aside time for socialization. Two of the biggest side effects of social distancing are loneliness and isolation and people on the spectrum can be especially vulnerable to these side effects of social withdrawal. During distance learning, parents of children with autism will have to make a special effort to identify which of their child’s friends are most able to connect virtually and to help schedule times for their child to keep in touch with friends outside of school-related Zoom sessions.
5. Be flexible. Distance learning can be difficult for many kids, but for some kids with severe forms of autism and other learning and behavioral issues, it may not be feasible at all. If your child requires one-in-one instruction or other assistance that you’re not equipped to provide and that just can’t be replicated on Zoom, it’s okay to take a step back from traditional schooling and to work with your child’s educational team to come up with an alternative plan. Be flexible and willing to switch gears if necessary.