Supporting Individuals with Autism

Supporting Individuals with Autism Through Distance Learning
boy looking in towards the school

Supporting Individuals with Autism Through Distance Learning

September 2020 | Issue #17

Are you struggling? So many of us are! The world around us is constantly changing and full of so many uncertainties right now, such as how to make distance learning work and knowing when our children will be able to return to school? And if your student/child has autism, the constant changes and uncertainties may seem impossible to overcome.

Individuals with autism of all ages struggle with transitions, change, and unpredictable routines. Understanding expectations for this new way of learning and living can also be hard. Finally, understanding what social skills are and how to use them is one of the main struggles individuals with autism face, so whether socializing before the pandemic or now when faced with social distancing restrictions, students and families will have a tough task to work through when attempting school through Zoom or interacting with teachers/classmates virtually.

All of this can be very overwhelming and may seem impossible, but with a little help and a couple of changes, it doesn’t have to!

Here are some quick tips to help support individuals with autism while social distancing and distance learning.

  1. Create a Routine: Individuals with autism thrive with routines no matter how small. Routines help make things consistent and predictable.
    • School related routines may include getting specific items out and set up in a workspace before each class and cleaning up and returning the same items to a designated spot once school is finished for the day.
    • Free time related routines can be little things like going out for a walk or jumping on the trampoline at the same time each day or getting 30 minutes of game time daily before dinner.
    • Family related routines would include any activity that needs to be completed to help the family function daily. These may include putting all the dishes in the sink after meals, wiping off the table and sweeping the floor. A different example would be picking up toys before each meal while listening to a favorite song.
  2. Use Visuals: Visuals help clarify expectation and information for individuals with autism. Visuals are also a great way to refer a student/child back to what they should be doing without having to repeat directions multiple times.
    • School related visuals may include a schedule listing the different times the child needs to log in to class. It can also include a sign with any usernames or passwords needed to log in to class. Other visuals may include steps for completing assignments or labels showing where materials can be found.
    • Zoom related visuals may include a list/pictures of expectations during zoom sessions. It may also include tape or chalk lines showing where to place the computer on a table or chair on the floor to allow others to see you within the screen. Other helpful visuals include instructions for muting/unmuting, turning on/off your video, and how to share screens.
    • Visuals related to completing routines can be helpful. These visuals may include steps for completing the routine supporting independence and limiting the need for multiple reminders.
    • Visuals for following new norms can be used to teach and remind individuals with autism the steps for putting on a mask correctly, washing hands and using hand sanitizer when away from the sink. Video Models can also be used to support this.
  3. Be Proactive: Setting up the environment before an activity, giving students/children warning before they need to change activities or start something can be extremely helpful. Being proactive allows us to prepare students/children to be successful, allowing us to support the desired behavior of children instead of reacting to undesirable responses. Check out the free ADEPT Module 1 Lesson 4: Planning and Preparation.
    • Priming is one of the simplest ways to be proactive. Priming is when we let students/children know when a change will happen before it comes up. An example of this would be saying, “In five minutes you are going to sign into zoom for class” or “you have five more minutes on the game”. Depending on the student/child’s response we may have to continue preparing them for the change by letting them know when they have three more minutes and then again at one more minute.
    • Preparing students/children for transitions is another way to be proactive. Transitions include moving from one location to another, changing between activities, moving from one workbook to another when changing subjects. Prepping for these transitions can include creating a small visual reminder card or what is needed next or referring to a schedule where the next activity is listed.
    • Using a First/Then phrase. This will sound like “first class, then scooter.” The key with using the first/then is once the child has completed the “first” it’s time for the “then.” Being consistent and following through helps the student/child understand what the first/then is, what it means for them, and what order they will be completing their activities.
    • Finally, it’s important to remember students/children need free time/breaks. Plan ahead to ensure breaks happen throughout the day and let the student/child know when these breaks will take place. Create a schedule that lists free time so they can see when it will happen. Create a list of choices of what can be done during free time, this will help children select activities that are available depending on the amount of time they have for their break.

Check out these additional resources for great examples. 

STAR Autism Freebies

ADEPT Modules

AFIRM Modules Visual Supports

AFIRM Modules Antecedent-based Intervention