Parents of kids diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder often report how engaged their children are with almost all technology and screens. Anecdotal reports and recent research describe how kids with attention, learning, and social-communication disorders love playing video games or watching television, sometimes to the point of addiction. These children may have great difficulty in transitioning away from screens and often display highly irritable and angry behavior when forced to do so. Perhaps most noteworthy is that parents notice their children’s intense engagement with the screen. But that may not be happening with the remote learning tools being used by many school systems during the COVID-19 quarantine. This contrast raises questions as to whether homeschooling kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder through online schooling is helpful.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can display an intense focus on selected activities, which is often observed with screen-based media. Because the inherent qualities of digital media such as immediate feedback, high levels of visual stimulation, and challenging activities are used to engage children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the regular classroom, one might expect that online instructional lessons would be ideal teaching tools. However, most of the hastily constructed online lessons in response to the coronavirus pandemic do not contain the characteristics of engaging video games such as multimodality, ever-changing screens, or clear and immediate feedback. Many online learning materials that are available for children during the quarantine do not teach through trial-and-error learning or guided discovery, which can sustain the attention of kids affected by autism.
As a result, parents and teachers often need to assist children with Autism Spectrum Disorder directly to help them remain focused on their online learning. The behavioral management techniques that are required in the classroom are necessary for individual learning at home. Essentially, many kids who need additional support in the classroom via a teacher’s aide or resource class require something similar in the home setting. Strategies such as preferential seat placement, provision of small bits of information, individualized instructions, assistance with executive-functioning difficulties, and quiet modification of expectations for children with IEP’s and 504 plans are more difficult for teachers to implement online.
In an ideal home-based online teaching program, a parent or instructor is available to guide and provide feedback to the student. This structure benefits most kids but is necessary for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Short of this type of support, we might consider strategies that focus on training these children in executive-functioning skills so that they are better at self-management. By teaching executive-functioning and social-emotional learning skills, we also help these kids to develop problem-solving capacities for self-direction to use effectively in the classroom. Having these skills may help them to remain more focused on their own work.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and social-communicative disorders will be more successful in remote learning if they can first improve their self -management skills and could benefit from LW4K LIVE classes that are readily accessed online. In contrast to the remote learning classrooms of traditional schools, this type of online teaching has the advantage of being a small group, using engaging games and technology to keep kids focused, and building skills using a variety of different games and formats.
The online classes your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder is attending are not designed with his learning style in mind, and parents may need to consult with teachers to make appropriate adjustments to expectations. Consider using some of these strategies to enhance these classes for your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder:
Teach SEL skills. Teach social-emotional learning skills. While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us apart, it also makes us realize how much we are together. Helping kids to support each other, work together on projects, and improve their social awareness will have long-term benefits, especially for children with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Use siblings or older student guides. This might help to develop social skills and also sustain focus. When a sibling is helping, even sitting side by side for brief periods may be a good modeling experience.
Take frequent breaks. One of the advantages of working at home is that walking around, getting a snack, or talking to one’s parents is perfectly acceptable. Use this freedom for breaks but develop some basic limits for working on a task. For some kids, this may need to be as short as 5 to 10 minutes before getting up. Make sure the breaks are also short and do not involve another screen-based activity.