As a mom of a 53-year old autistic son, if I have learned one thing in life, it is that every dark cloud has a silver lining.
This current health crisis is certainly a dark cloud; however, remote learning can be a silver lining for our autistic children.
Over the years, I encountered many difficult situations in providing a consistent learning environment for my son but, with some creativity, we eventually resolved each and every problem.
My son, Joe, was diagnosed with autism at age 6 in 1972 when there were no IEPs or special education to assist our special needs children.
Parents and teachers alike were basically on their own to provide an appropriate learning framework for their children and students.
At this time, millions of us are navigating our way through this health crisis by educating our children through remote education at home.
Teachers across the country are doing an incredible job of providing distance education.
This enables our children to maintain learning progress and should be commended for their resourcefulness and hard work.
Many parents are juggling working from home while making certain their children are keeping up with their studies.
Parents and teachers alike should be proud of the changes they have made in their lives to continue educating children, especially at the speed in which this transformational process is being accomplished.
Waiver of Special Education and IEP Goals
One aspect of the changes that have occurred in education during this crisis is the waiver of IEP services for special needs children in some school districts.
While this might be an understandable short-term approach, this waiver will interrupt, and could have possible long-term consequences for the learning progress of our special needs children.
However, special needs children deserve to still be able to achieve their IEP goals and should have compensatory services in the meantime.
Therefore, keeping in contact with your child’s special education teachers and requesting continued services is a must and there are many ways to accomplish this.
Continuing the IEP and Learning Progress
The good news is that this is 2020 not 1972 and fortunately for parents and teachers, there are a multitude of quality educational computer programs and computer apps that can assist parents and teachers in continuing to educate special needs children in an appropriate, meaningful, and productive manner.
Autism and Technology
One fortunate aspect of remote learning for our autistic children is that many studies have shown they have a statistically higher aptitude for technology and can thrive with online learning.
Research at Carnegie Mellon University has found that, “people with autism value the increased control over their social interactions that is afforded by the filter of a computer screen” explaining the preferred use of technology by autistic children and adults.
Studies have also shown that autistic individuals have supercharged parts of the brain and the ability to hyper-focus.
This enables them to understand and use technology in deeper and more meaningful ways than those who are not autistic.
While up to 90% of our children are home from school, let’s make the most of this remote learning situation by using this ability of our autistic children to hyper-focus to empower them to not only meet but surpass their IEP goals through the use of technology.
Meeting IEP Goals with Technology
With this end in mind, there are many programs available on the internet that can assist parents and special education teachers to monitor the learning progress of our autistic and other special needs children so that IEP goals are not set aside during this crisis.
I applaud the many school districts that are allowing students to access the district’s computer program licenses from home.
Keeping the Lines of Communication Open
Here are three programs that can help parents, teachers and students communicate and stay in touch.
- Google Classroom: Student assignments can be uploaded to the teacher, the teacher can grade the assignments and return information back to the student.
- Class Dojo: Communication between parents and teachers can be conducted in chosen language, teacher can provide awards and rewards for students’ progress, students can upload pictures and videos of activities demonstrating the completion of class projects.
Reportedly 95% of school districts have this in place and is therefore easy to set up. Your child’s teacher may have already set this up at the beginning of the school year.
- Remind: Teachers can send group or whole class announcements, or have private chats between parents and teachers, and can translate 90 different languages.
Reading Sites/Apps: Providing Progress Data for IEP Goals
- Starfall: Reading and Writing Pre-K thru 3rd grade. Built in Parent/Teacher portal to track students’ progress, ideal for relating information to be included in remote IEP meetings.
- Duolingo ABC: A fun, hands on way to learn to read.
Math Sites/Apps: Providing Progress Data for IEP Goals
- Prodigy: Math Grades 1-8. It is a free self-paced math game, monitors math progress, and provides assessments to be shared with teachers.
- Math Antics: All Grades, provides videos on math from fractions to statistics. New feature allows teachers to share access with students.
All Subjects: Providing Progress Data for IEP Goals
- Kahoot!: All grades, all subjects. Allows teachers and parents to create games or choose from pre-made games to introduce a topic, review a topic, and create assessments.
- SeeSaw: All grades, all subjects. Students use a variety of tools such as draw and record, collage, and video, to create a portfolio showing what they know in a subject area. Teachers gain insight into students’ thinking and progress to better differentiate learning.
Exploring and Learning Safely: Parental Controls and Netiquette:
After you have set the parental controls on your family devices, for example the amount of screen time and blocked sites, this is a wonderful time to teach kids about cyber bullying and digital etiquette or netiquette.
- YouTube Kids: Created to give children a safe online experience to explore and learn. Family friendly content with parental controls to limit screen time and content. Includes resources to help develop netiquette.
- PBS Kids: Age appropriate educational programs, games, series on science, culture and much more.
- The National PTA at pta.org has a wide variety of resources, tools and information to support families and teachers.
Movement: When the Kids (and You) Get “the Wiggles”
- GoNoodle: Hundreds of short movement and mindfulness videos that are educational and fun.
The Future is Now: Coding
Arguably, one of the single most important skills of today is coding.
Coding, is the process of using computer language to develop a script that tells a computer to do what you want it to do, and is part of the technology standards in most states.
Even pre-readers are not too young to learn to code.
No time like the present to get your children exposed to and proficient in coding.
- Code.org: Courses for ages 4-18 with lots of games to practice their new skills. Kids can even learn to code their own original computer game.’
- Tynker: For ages 5+, includes courses, challenges, and tutorials.
Keeping Our Cool
Parents and children alike are stressed as many families’ routines have been drastically changed and anxiety over health and safety set in.
Developing forms of relaxation is necessary for parents and children alike.
While watching movies and television can have a calming effect, they only passively engage the mind.
More effective for long term psychological health is for the mind to be actively engaged to truly interrupt the negative thinking that causes stress in children and adults.
My son loves interactive games that actively engage this mind such as Sim City. However, for just relaxing, an online chess game is his favorite way to calm his mind.
My husband, John, a retired teacher is also an artist and children’s book illustrator. To relax and engage his mind, he creates beautiful artwork.
I, on the other hand, play word games such as WordScapes. When playing these games, the stressful thoughts drain from my mind leaving me relaxed and happy. Just for fun, I am also using the Duolingo app to learn Italian.
Parents as Role Models for Coping in a Crisis
While we surely can be stressed during this crisis, we, also, are able to spend more time with our children giving us the opportunity to explore and learn along with them.
But they watch us and learn from us also. We are their role models.
So, engaging in activities to help us as parents to relax, or when we learn how to use a new app, is not only good for us but is also a great benefit for our children as our children, by constantly observing us, learn coping methods from us.
This is true now more than ever.
None of us could have envisioned millions of children engaged in remote learning all at once, but by parents and teachers continuing to work together as a team, we can enable our autistic and special needs children to continue to not only meet the goals set in their IEPs but surpass those goals.
Remote learning could very well turn out to be the silver lining in this dark cloud of this crisis.
This crisis is a challenge and an opportunity like none before in our lifetime.
Let’s make the most of it.
Carol is the mother of a 53 year old Autistic son and author of Against All Odds. She is an educator, school psychologist and parenting group facilitator. Carol has been in the field of education for almost 40 years.
She has had the opportunity to teach grades K-12, was a high school counselor and school psychologist and has specialized in working with at-risk children and adolescents.
Carol has facilitated groups at a local Orange County, California clinic where she worked with adolescents who had recently been released from juvenile hall, adults with anger issues, and parents who experienced custody difficulties during divorce proceedings or have lost their children to Social Services for a variety of reasons.
Carol presently teaches psychology at an Orange County, California college.
Carol is the author of two children’s books on differences: The Draco Twins Make a Discovery and The Draco Twins Turn Bullies into Buddies.