One can say that school is a storm of challenges for children on the spectrum, as the autistic child may have various sensory issues, which could be triggered by anything on campus. However, it also provides the best environment for enhancing behavioural and social skills.
Recently, virtual learning has impacted many families and educators, especially during this pandemic. Virtual schools have definitely made it safer for children, but it also presents hurdles. Parents and/or guardians of an autistic child have to deal with technological struggles. Their main concern is about how the lack of inclusion absence of in-person communication will affect interpersonal skills.
Regardless, there have been positive results with online schooling as well. Children with autism have adapted well to virtual learning, some even thrived with it. To get a better picture of how a virtual school can affect an autistic child’s life, we can look at its pros and cons.
Fewer sensory assaults
Doctor Jeffrey Selma, Vice President of Children First Services, says that sensory needs may be less of a problem with virtual learning. Common diagnoses of autism tell us that fluorescent lights, class buzzers, crowded halls, microphones and other ordinary aspects of the school day can be excruciatingly painful. The home can consequently be the perfect environment for an autistic child to go by his day with ease.
Less bullying and social stress
Violence is an everyday issue for the autistic community. They’re easy targets, so to speak, for ridicule and bullying. With fewer peers to support them and the inability to physically and/or verbally approach anyone with ASD, such harassment can see a significant decline.
Moreover, to many children on the spectrum, it may come as a huge relief when there are fewer expectations on them in a social setting. Plus, it can be a struggle for teachers to have the autistic child adhere to regulations such as social distancing, keeping your mask on, etc.
Virtual learning will keep that stress off of children (and teachers) while they go through their daily school routine.
More personalised education
Depending on your child, learning can be a lot easier with the teacher and parent to guide them. Some online schooling and autism therapy centres offer individualised support that is harder to gain through normal means.
Small Steps Big Dreams in Dubai, UAE similarly caters to the needs of autistic children; including ABA therapy as a part of their services, which is designed uniquely for each autistic child’s individual needs.
While some autistic children are prospering with virtual learning, there are cases where one can see the need of in-person education. Michelle Ettore, a K-2 autistic support teacher at Lamberton Elementary School claimed to have noticed that her students on the spectrum could easily work through a paragraph. However, at present, it seemed equal to “pulling teeth” just to get focused on one sentence.
Some teachers are worried that their autistic students might not be able to form real connections, as they aren’t really going out in the community to interact. While some have managed to master Zoom, others have “completely shut down”, with the educators struggling to get a word out of them.
Difficulty accessing therapeutic and support services
Most children with ASD have individualized educational plans. However, where one-on-one interaction isn’t considered safe, effective special education services are a challenge.
Challenge for parents
Teachers are instructed to train parents to help with virtual school. However, in many cases, parents are hesitant. They have other responsibilities, and may even have a younger child to look after. If one is to add to it the needs of a lower-functioning autistic child, the stress becomes too much.
An autistic child takes time to adjust, make sense of and respond to on-line or at home learning. Parents become too drained, and “definitely overwhelmed” when dividing their attention and patience efficiently.
The truth is that most families with an autistic child will have trouble with virtual learning. Bearing that reality in mind, however, should not mean that you lose hope. Perseverance and patience are key to aiding your child with ASD.