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Why Remote Learning Works for My Son With Autism

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Early last year, when my son’s school district announced classes for all students would move online out of an abundance of caution about COVID-19, which had newly been declared a worldwide pandemic, I was very concerned.

As a student in a cluster program for children with disabilities, my son has a modified curriculum, gets support services like speech therapy weekly, and receives hands-on assistance from special education classroom assistants who help him understand his assignments and stay on task.

With schools closed, I figured my son might lose the gains he achieved in reading and math and I thought he might even lose some skills altogether, but remote learning has had the opposite effect. He has consistently excelled this school year and has probably had his best year yet academically.

Remote learning is not without its challenges and when it comes to educating children with autism, there is no one size fits all approach because every child has unique needs. Learning at home limits my son’s ability to practice his social skills and interact with friends, and someone has to be present at all times to give him the extra support he would otherwise receive from classroom assistants. But, even with these challenges, remote learning has overwhelmingly benefitted my son in five important ways:

1. Transitions are easier.

Moving from one location to another hasn’t always been easy for my son to do. Crowded hallways, the chatter of his classmates and the assortment of random noises that naturally occur as his class transitions from one area of the school to another have always been a source of anxiety for him. At home, he follows a daily schedule and the only transitions he makes are from one Google Meet to another.

2. There are no unfamiliar noises to distract him.

Noises that my son can’t readily identify can distract him so much that he loses focus on his work, and when that happens it can be very difficult to get him back on track. Because our home environment changes very little from day to day and it’s where he feels most safe and comfortable, unidentifiable loud noises are rarely a problem.

3. He has access to his preferred foods.

My son is a very picky eater and will under no circumstances eat the breakfast or lunch the school provides. Among his favorite foods are scrambled eggs, pancakes and white rice, none of which can survive the trip to school in his lunch box. I typically send an assortment of treats like goldfish crackers and pretzels to school with him so he can at least have a snack during the school day. During remote learning at home, I can prepare the foods he likes and I don’t have to worry about whether he’s hungry or not.

4. He’s more independent.

To be clear, my son needs the supports he receives at school, but I’ve discovered that when given the time and space to do things on his own, he can do part or all of the tasks performed by his teacher or classroom assistants on his own. At home, he can take out his pencil, use the appropriate notebooks, find the proper worksheets needed to complete the day’s work and do many of his computer-based assignments without much help.

5. His use of technology has improved.

Before remote learning, my son wasn’t very familiar with how to use a laptop or any website besides YouTube. Now he can turn on his computer, navigate to Google Classroom and do the assignments his teacher adds to Google Slides like a pro. He can open new documents, save his work, use a search engine, and add cool backgrounds during meetings. He has even taught himself to type pretty quickly using the two-finger method.

For my son, remote learning has given him a calmer and more relaxing space to learn and has given him the opportunity to learn new skills he wouldn’t have picked up at school, and for us, that’s a win.

Getty image by Drazen Zigic.

Originally published: April 4, 2021
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