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5 Tips for Creating an Online Classroom for Students With Autism

The transition to online learning hasn’t been easy for anyone, but it presents particularly difficult obstacles for some populations. Teachers need specialized training to help students with challenging behaviors maintain their academic progress during these uncertain times. The online Master of Education in Special Education – Challenging Behaviors at Southeastern Oklahoma State University “helps education professionals expand their knowledge and skills in providing services to individuals with diverse learning needs.” This fully online program, which can be completed in as few as 12 months, enables educators to develop the analysis, intervention and support strategies necessary to help students succeed.

Here are a few ways you can help students with autism effectively transition to online learning environments:

Create a Dedicated Learning Space With Minimal Distractions

This is one of the simplest but most important aspects of digital or online learning. Many adults have struggled with avoiding distractions and maintaining focus while working from home, so it should come as no surprise that students face the same challenges. Creating a dedicated space that children use each day reinforces use of that environment for learning. Eliminating distractions such as toys or television will allow students to focus their attention on school assignments. Ideally, designating a distraction-free learning space will help children acclimate to an online learning routine.

Practice Realistic Goal Setting

It simply isn’t plausible to expect any child to seamlessly transition to online learning in the midst of a global pandemic. For students with autism, the deviation from their usual schedule can be even more disruptive. The best way to approach this new normal is realistically and with understanding. Don’t expect students to meet the same benchmarks or achieve the same academic goals they would under typical circumstances. Teachers and parents would be wise to set new, more reachable goals. Creating a scenario where students continue to have small successes is vastly preferable to frustrating them with unrealistic expectations. Educators can create new goals once a student has met or surpassed previous ones.

Maintain Communication With Your Support System

One of the biggest challenges of converting to online learning is the absence of support personnel who frequently assist students with diverse learning needs.  To close the gap, all parties involved need to be proactive. Teachers, parents and administrators must maintain clear lines of communication as they optimize Behavior Intervention and Individualized Educations Plans for online learning environments.  No one could have been prepared for pandemic-level disruption to the educational system, so it is essential to establish regular communication and a unified support system to serve students better.

Don’t Forget About Social Skills

It is not unusual for students with autism to need assistance with social cues or skills. This is a potential major complication of online learning. Christa Oister, a special education teacher at the public cyber school Commonwealth Charter Academy, says: “Focused instruction on flexible thinking, understanding body language and facial expressions, expected vs. unexpected behavior, thinking about others versus just yourself and how to cope with problems when they arise should still be provided as needed in a virtual classroom.” It may take some creativity to continue this instruction virtually but ceasing it altogether would be far too detrimental to the student.

Take Advantage of Digital Resources

There is a wealth of digital resources and assistive technology for students with autism. Parents and teachers may find the following links useful as they navigate the transition to online learning.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of highly skilled educators trained to create online spaces for students with diverse learning needs. An online graduate degree can give you the knowledge required to help neurodiverse individuals achieve their academic goals.

Learn more about Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s Master of Education in Special Education – Challenging Behaviors online program.


Autism Research Institute: Helping Students With Autism Switch to Online Learning

Autism Parenting Magazine: Assistive Communication Devices for Children With Autism

Autism Speaks: How to Support Students With Autism: Virtual Learning Environment

Autism Speaks: Technology and Autism

Ed Tech: 3 Ways Assistive Technology Can Help Students With Autism

Missouri Assistive Technology Advisory Council: Autism Spectrum Disorder and Assistive Technology

National Autistic Society: Strategies and Interventions

Rise and Shine: Distance Learning Tips for Children With Autism

Teach: Digital Resources for Students with Autism

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