4 lessons from remote learning for autistic pupils

New approaches to supporting autistic children with remote learning will be useful in the classroom, writes Ola Malanska

Ola Malanska

Coronavirus and schools: Lessons from supporting autistic pupils with online learning

Remote learning hasn’t been easy for any of us. But for autistic children, this change has been even more significant. 

Some of them have genuinely enjoyed this type of delivery as unknown sensory input has been eliminated, there are no crowds and there is no need to worry about masking their neurodiversity. 

But for others, remote learning has brought extra stress. With a lack of clear structure and expectations, and often a lack of one-to-one support, it can cause a lot of anxiety and affect achievement and mental wellbeing.

Online learning: How to support autistic pupils

It has been crucial to take the needs of autistic children into careful consideration when planning remote learning to ensure that they are included and not feeling left behind. And these lessons can be applied to face-to-face learning when back in the classroom, too.

Make instructions clear

Autistic children need extra time to process information as they may struggle with verbal instructions. Many autistic individuals “think in pictures”, so by preparing visual, easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions, you will help autistic students to realise what is expected from them and to complete their work in simple steps. Videos can work magic here, for remote learning and in person. 

Concentrate on strengths

Concentrate on what students can rather than what they can’t do. Autistic children are skilled in many areas, so use their interests to teach specific topics.

While remote learning is still in place, you may want to ask them to help prepare a short quiz on a specific topic, which may give them a massive boost of confidence and will make them proud. This could also continue back in the classroom if successful. 

Accept the difference

Accept your autistic students as they are. Make efforts to enter their worlds rather than to make them fit in. Autistic perspective of the world can add so much to teaching practice and enrich the whole-school curriculum offer to all students. In these difficult times, it will also promote much-needed social inclusion and a sense of belonging.

Prioritise mental wellbeing

During this difficult time, we have been prioritising mental wellbeing over delivery of the curriculum. Curriculum can wait, mental health can’t. We didn’t pressurise autistic students to have their cameras on as that can make them very anxious. Instead, we offered extra support and sent empowering emails. 

As things continue to develop, taking the time to have simple conversations about how they are, and offering reassurance that things will get better and that you are there for them will help put their mind at ease. Now, more than ever, we must stay vigilant about any safeguarding issues.

Being autistic has its challenges and the pandemic has not made things any easier. In a socially distanced world, where any human contact may be risky, autistic individuals need us, teachers, to create a comforting routine that will make their life a little more bearable. They are worth it.

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Ola Malanska

Ola Malanska is an SEN teacher, autism practitioner and founder of Caleidoscope CIC

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