The coronavirus pandemic has brought upheaval to students throughout America, leaving the education system to struggle with a temporary “new normal.” But for those individuals with an autism spectrum disorder, these changes are creating additional distinctive challenges.
Barbara Cook, associate professor of communication disorders who also collaborates with SCSU’s Center of Excellence on Autism Spectrum Disorders, offers some suggestions to teachers and professors on how students with autism – particularly at the college level – can better deal with these challenging times.
Challenge: Navigating the social expectations with remote learning.
Cook said these can include addressing the following questions:
*How do students alert the teacher/professor when they have a question or comment?
*How do students step away from a live session (do they announce that they are leaving, or do they just walk away from the computer)?
*Where do students look or direct their gaze?
*How do students consider the background being displayed from their computer when showing video?
*Where do students sit during these online classes?
Suggestion: A course professor may need to reach out to individual students to clarify expectations and rules for engaging during synchronous learning. Examples would include how students should indicate they have a question or comment, and whether they are expected to keep their video on throughout a session, or if they can leave unannounced. Raising awareness of the subtleties during a private conversation will be greatly appreciated by the students.
Challenge: Navigating the social expectations for asynchronous learning. This might prove to be especially challenging given the heightened need to self-manage the review of materials and complete course readings and assignments.
Because of the sudden shift to an online platform, a professor may have created additional assignments that can monitor and assess the engagement of students for this type of learning. This might be perceived as “breaking the contract” of the original syllabus. The student may struggle to connect with the professor to gain clarification or request an accommodation to align with their learning needs.
Suggestion: Check in with each student to learn about their strategy for organizing and planning assignments. If you use BlackBoard, take advantage of its calendar function, which can show all students the due dates of assignments. And the announcement feature can provide the ability to link to specific assignments in the course to serve as weekly reminders. Course instructors are encouraged to connect with their school’s disability resources office to better understand the needed accommodations for online learning of their students.
Challenge: Navigating one’s home as a classroom or learning environment.
Learning in a physical classroom is conducive to engaging in one’s course work. But a home setting can create distractions for students, causing them to relax and focus on leisure activities, rather than course work. Organizing, planning, and time management for completing course work might be interrupted.
Suggestion: Share similar challenges experienced by many peers, and hold discussions or possibly check-ins to encourage continuation of learning. Offer suggestions for creating a daily routine that includes a set time and location for completing course work. This daily schedule also should include designated time for leisure activity.
Challenge: Navigating group projects. Students may inconsistently initiate or respond to email with other students during group projects.
Suggestion: Teachers and professors can arrange meetings with student groups to find out their approach to communicating, as well as the timeline they have outlined to complete the steps of the project(s). It would be important to arrange check-in meetings between the course instructor and the groups to keep momentum.