Making School Work for Kids With Autism During the COVID Pandemic

Resources, Tools, and Ideas for Success

While it can be a challenge, students who have autism can thrive with remote learning. To make that happen, parents, guardians, and educators can take advantage of existing resources and opportunities—and creatively structure the school day to help ensure success.

Some aspects of remote learning are unusually difficult for children on the spectrum, but many children (and their parents or guardians) might not have problems with it, and some might even do better than they would with traditional, in-person learning.

Schooling Children With Autism During Covid-19

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

What Is Remote Learning?

Even if a child is at home with remote learning, this is not the same as homeschooling. Rather, you are supporting a school-based education in your home. That means your participation may be necessary—but the teacher is in charge.

Besides real-time remote classes, asynchronous learning (learning at different times from other students) is fast becoming an acceptable option for students of all abilities and ages.

Top 6 Tips for Success

Children with autism need special types of support for remote learning, and if they are under your care, it will be up to you to ensure they have it.

Here are some of the top tips from educators and specialists:

  1. Be aware that special circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic have no impact on your school district's legal requirement to provide a child with free and appropriate education (FAPE).
  2. Don't assume a child should be at school as much as possible. Many children with autism do better at home than at school. That's because, without the sensory distractions and social expectations of school, they can focus on learning and on their own particular interests.
  3. Be sure to make use of a child's individualized education plan (IEP) to get them (and you) any individualized or enhanced services.
  4. Work closely with the child's teachers and therapists—and be as flexible and creative as possible.
  5. Use technology to its best advantage, and be open to the possibility that you may need to install and/or learn new software systems.
  6. Tap into online resources to help the child in your care understand any special circumstances that have affected their schooling.

Know Your Rights

Before leaping into arranging special education, it's important to know what you and the child in your care are entitled to under the law. If you have a child with autism, make sure to familiarize yourself with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which guarantees a "free and appropriate" education to children with all disabilities.

Your child's IEP includes a plan for accommodations, support, and therapies.

Required Services May Be Delivered Online

Your child may need many different services in addition to the standard educational services that are provided by the school.

Here is what Wrightslaw.com, a site focused on disability law, says:

"School districts can contract with teletherapy companies to provide the speech-language, physical therapy, occupational therapy children with disabilities need to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) as set forth in their IEPs."

Depending on the circumstances, this could apply to your child. For example, your child's recommended educational placement may be their own home—and some services could be provided at a distance. So long as the services are provided safely and effectively, online teletherapy is a viable option.

Making the Most of Technology

Schools are using a wide range of teaching and communication systems, and it can be tough to keep track of what they're doing and how and where to find what you need. Most use either Blackboard or Canvas as a basic tool for delivering lessons, but most also use other technology to support learning—especially for students with disabilities.

Kate Garcia, Special Education and Science teacher at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in the Philadelphia suburbs offers some insights into technology that works well and supports teachers, students, and parents alike.

Video

Teachers may record direct instruction so that students and guardians can watch and rewatch later. Often, direct instruction includes directions for completing specific tasks.

Zoom

One terrific advantage of Zoom is the ability to create "breakout rooms" where students with disabilities can meet with their aides or therapists to work together on an assignment.

Therapists may also join Zoom sessions and engage with or observe students as they would in a real-world classroom.

Kami

Kamiapp is a school-friendly tool that allows teachers to upload a wide range of resources. It also offers text to speech and makes it possible for guardians to record themselves as they request specific help from the teacher.

Google

The Google suite of tools provides more resources than you might expect. In addition to documents and slide shows, it can also be used to collect materials (via Google Keep), connect with teachers (via Google Forms), and much more.

Social Media

Some teachers have created Facebook or Instagram pages to support learning. There, they post learning and teaching strategies and updates, and even answer questions in real-time.

Social Interaction and Social Learning

Social engagement is important, but it's hard to set up "lunch bunch" or social skills groups in a virtual environment—especially for students who find face-to-face interaction daunting. Fortunately, there are many ways to be social.

Depending on your child's needs and abilities, they may enjoy:

  • Online gaming in virtual worlds or virtual versions of real-world games such as Dungeons and Dragons or chess
  • Zoom groups that focus on a special interest, or provide an opportunity for structured interaction
  • Family experiences such as shared TV time, or shared work on a jigsaw puzzle or board game

And kids with autism who participate in remote learning might thrive with in-person extracurricular activities, like sports, music, art, theatre, and more. Remember, autism isn't one size fits all and out-of-school activities could be just what your child needs.

A Word From Verywell

It can be difficult to manage special education for a child who is living with autism, and there is no single "right" way to do it. While parental or guardian involvement is always helpful, it's important to give space to teachers, aides, and therapists to do their job while you do yours.

The key is to stay in close communication with a child's team and craft the best IEP and learning experience possible as you consider whether remote learning is a potential approach to your child's education.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. WrightsLaw. Special education and COVID-19: How schools can provide therapy services in IEPs.

  2. Garcia K. Conversation with Kate Garcia. Special Education and Science teacher at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School.

Additional Reading

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.