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11 Tips for Neurodivergents Transitioning From Online to In-Person Learning

Transitions are hard for those who are on the neurodiverse spectrum! After more than a year of many schools being closed due to COVID, students and teachers are transitioning from distance learning to being in person. This transition from distance learning and in-person learning can be a source of anxiety at first for neurodiverse individuals. Adjusting to a new/old routine will take some time to get used to. I am a neurodiverse educator who works at a high school with neurodiverse students. This summer was the first time I’ve transitioned from distance learning to in-person learning since the pandemic started. At first, the transition was tough for me and I could tell it was tough for some of my students. Here are tips to help neurodivergents transitioning from online to in-person learning this fall.

1.Use a planner/bullet journal.

Having a planner or bullet journal is great because it can help with executive functioning, which can be a struggle for many neurodivergent people. You can physically see your schedule, when upcoming school work is due, and keep track of important appointments and other tasks. And you have reminders of what you did that day. I like doing my bullet journal where I can track my moods and have my lists in it. However, sometimes bullet journals can be hard to keep up with since you are doing everything yourself. If that seems like too much, find a planner that works for you.

2. Prepare the night before.

Prepping the day before can help with executive functioning and relieve anxiety. It was nice being at home for distance learning because everything we needed was in front of us. Let’s be honest, most of us were in our PJs in bed. Getting up and getting ready in the morning can be a challenge. Try to have everything ready for the next day the night before. Have your clothes picked out, make your lunch, charge your computer, fill up your water bottle. If you need to, take a shower the night before.

3. Bring fidget toys and wearable stim toys.

Small fidget toys like a fidget cube, spin ring, stim bracelet, adult chew necklace can be really helpful. I love having fidget items that I can wear because if I have a stim toy in my hand, I can easily leave it somewhere or just forget to bring it with me. If I wear something, it’s always with me and I don’t have to go digging through my bag to find it when I need it.

4.  Wear noise-reduction earplugs.

Let’s face it, schools can be loud. Busy school halls, playgrounds, fire drills can all be overwhelming noisy. I love to carry a simple pair of noise reduction earplugs to help me in the school halls. While having headphones on can be helpful, music can also be overwhelming and too distracting in some situations. Also, not all schools allow Bluetooth headphones, so it’s great to have a pair of earplugs handy.

5. Find one person you can connect to.

After being online for so long as well as being neurodivergent, it’s not always easy to connect with fellow peers. Remember you don’t have to be popular but it’s great to try to find at least one person you can talk to at school, whether it’s about special interests, things that are going on in your lives, or whatever connects you to that person that helps you socialize a bit without feeling like you have to mask your autistic traits.

6. Find a safe place to hang out.

Finding a safe place where you can relax and unmask to meet your autism-related needs (if you feel like you are masking at school) can be essential to preventing meltdowns and burnouts. These safe places can look like a quiet place in the hallways, a favorite teacher’s room, a sensory room (if your school has one), etc.

7. You don’t always have to socialize.

I know this seems contradictory to saying finding one person to connect to. But for some that mask autistic traits, we often force ourselves to socialize, even if we are exhausted. You don’t always have to socialize as sometimes that can lead to masking at school which in the long run can cause depression, more meltdowns and burnout. Try to listen to your body and mood. If you are just feeling like you physically or emotionally can’t talk to people or friends, don’t force it. Your friends will understand.

8. Ask for accommodations.

If you are a student in the U.S. who has an IEP or 504, make sure your accommodations are being followed. Sometimes this can mean extra time on tests and assignments. If you are unsure if you have these accommodations, ask your caregivers or email your teachers. For neurodivergent teachers, if you feel comfortable, communicate with your administrators about the accommodations you might need to help you in your classroom to be successful in the workplace.

9. Ask for a different seat.

Sometimes, at the beginning of the school year, teachers like to do assigned seating, which can cause issues. If you have a problem with where you are sitting, ask if they can make an accommodation. Some IEPs have preferential seating on them.

10. Set timers.

When you are at home and trying to focus on studying and doing school work, setting timers can help give you breaks in between work. Timers can also be useful at school if you need a bit of break from an independent task in class. Have open communication with your teacher; let them know you need a break. Ask if you can set a timer to be able to go back to the task after the break. When you get home, set a timer to give yourself some time to rest, get a snack and recenter before you start on homework and chores.

11. Take it easy on yourself.

Remember it’s been a while since we’ve been in-person and transitions aren’t always easy. You might still have some meltdowns, you might still get burnt out. It’s going to take a bit to get back into a new routine.

While transitions can be tough at first, the routine of in-person learning provides more structure, routines and stability that many autistics need to thrive. While it was nice being at home, I’m looking forward to having a stable routine again.

Find Amelia’s writing and advocacy on Instagram and poetry book on Amazon.

Getty image by Wavebreak Media.