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How Online School Lets Students With Autism Thrive

CCA student and teacher looking at a laptop

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are just like all kids. They are smart, funny and perceptive. They learn according to their own styles and pacing. Yes, they can be trying — what child isn’t? — but through it all they bring joy into the home and a parent’s only wish is for their happiness.

Of course, there are differences, and the best school is the one that pays attention to the distinctions. Online learning for children with ASD offers a solution for families frustrated with one-size-fits-all schooling. CCA’s online learning opens new pathways through a commitment to personalized education. Parents who learn how online school supports students with ASD could find the answer to their prayers — a safe place where their child can learn and grow.

Understand Different Learning Styles to Meet Different Needs

When children make their first batch of slime, multiple senses get involved on the way to understanding the process. Kids read the instructions and gather the ingredients. They listen to the adult providing guidance or the video showing how it’s done. They dive in with their hands to make a satisfyingly gooey mess. They add color and talk about their schemes for how to use the slime. Finally, they stretch their creation into silly shapes while, hopefully, keeping it from gumming up a sibling’s hair. 

As children see, hear, talk and feel, they are employing the primary ways of learning, and yet the experience differs for each child because their perspective differs. All children have unique learning styles that drive the way they process information. By calling on different senses, separately or in combination, they are employing the learning styles that work best for them. These styles are:

  • Visual: Reading a textbook or analyzing images helps the viewer build comprehension.
  • Auditory: Listening to a teacher or audiobook conveys information in a way that the child can understand.
  • Kinesthetic: Hands-on learning delivers a kind of “proof is in the pudding” experience. 
  • Verbal: Using the written and spoken word helps learners to express themselves.  

Many people are comfortable with more than one learning style, so they compensate for their weaknesses by calling on their strengths. For instance, a child might not gain much from listening to a lecture, but sitting down with a textbook later helps fill in the gaps. 

However, children on the autism spectrum experience the world differently. In fact, a hallmark of ASD is, quite often, the reliance on a single learning style. Many children with ASD are solely visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners. They have no backup, putting them at a disadvantage in traditional classroom settings where lectures, reading and hands-on activities are doled out equally. If the teacher doesn’t accommodate students’ unique learning styles, that child may become frustrated, bored and fidgety. Academic progress grinds to a halt because the child has few options. 

With a child on the autism spectrum, understanding the learning style is crucial to customizing a learning plan that inspires personal growth and builds comprehension of lessons. What type of learner is your child? The things kids enjoy doing offer hints.

  • Visual learners look at picture books or love watching television, maybe even without sound. They look carefully at people and things, as if trying to understand them. 
  • Auditory learners like to hear people talking, and some can repeat exactly what teachers and family members say to them. They listen to podcasts or music. They might be the family chatterbox, because they like to hear the sounds of their voices.
  • Kinesthetic learners manipulate objects or tear things apart to see how they work. They might also be constantly opening and closing drawers or pushing buttons, just to get the hands-on sensation that they love. 

Understanding the primary learning style of a child with ASD is the first step in communicating and teaching in ways that they understand. The child who “doesn’t listen” actually might not be an auditory learner. If that’s the case, it’s time to switch tactics. Instead of telling them repeatedly to sit down, put your hands on their shoulders and gently guide them to the chair. Or if the child just can’t understand the words on a page — going back to the slime-making instructions — try putting images on cards or showing a video that puts the lesson in visual terms.  

Create Positive Learning Environments for Students With ASD

The right environment for students on the autism spectrum is another difference-maker in learning and comprehension. Children with ASD struggle with barriers that impede comprehension and focus, and the wrong learning environment only builds those barriers higher. 

Where does your child stumble? For children with ASD, barriers to learning include:

  • Rigid thinking: Children on the autism spectrum might be able to focus sharply on details but can’t see the big picture. For instance, they can remember the three little pigs and their houses of straw, wood and brick, but they can’t grasp the moral of the story. 
  • Perseveration: “It’s not an obsession,” goes a saying seen on T-shirts. “It’s perseveration.” Parents of children on the autism spectrum know that perseveration is simply repetitive behavior. However, it can take different forms as children strive to make sense of their environment and situations. They might flap their arms, repeat an action or phrase, or focus intently on one subject, to the detriment of all others.  
  • Struggles to transition: In every school day, there are moments of transition from one subject to the next. Students on the autism spectrum can become so deeply involved in a task that moving on is a problem. They might also have gaps in their executive functioning — the system of the brain that controls decision-making and self-management — that make it hard to stop one thing and focus on another.   
  • Interpretation of social cues: People communicate through words, expressions and gestures. They navigate through society according to unwritten rules. People with ASD can struggle to understand how the pieces fit together to define social norms. In school, this translates into difficulty understanding expectations and picking up on instructions. 

Of course, barriers to learning can also be considered strengths to be cultivated. Positive learning environments surround children with a sense of security by minimizing distractions. Teachers use methods that address each child’s unique learning styles. In a positive learning environment, academic achievement is linked to social and emotional needs. 

Online learning for students with ASD, such as the personalized instruction delivered by CCA, is an empowering option for families. Cyber schooling dispenses with many of the barriers to learning harbored in brick-and-mortar schools:

  • Parents control the learning environment and can eliminate bothersome distractions, including particular sounds and smells. 
  • Parents and teachers can encourage children to develop social skills without plunging them into the bewilderment that comes with playground and classroom settings. 
  • Children can focus their energies on understanding the teacher and learning new concepts, while teachers give children the time they need to process information. 
  • Parents can guide their children through daily transitions, establish predictable routines and encourage children to pursue their passions and find areas where their assets shine.

Try Personalized Learning for Student Success

Most parents know what IEPs are. They’re the federally mandated individualized education programs that every public school must prepare for children with identified special needs impeding successful learning.

But is your child’s IEP truly individualized? Does it acknowledge and address your child’s unique learning styles, passions, barriers, strengths and emotional needs? 

CCA puts the “individualized” back into IEP. CCA begins with a commitment to personalized education for all students. Personalized learning highlights and works with individual student strengths for better educational outcomes. This innovative approach to education means discarding cookie-cutter lessons in favor of customization. Flexibility allows children to learn at their own pace, on their own time. A personalized learning path allows students to delve into their passions and set their own academic goals. Teachers and the school provide increased support that targets each child’s academic, behavioral, social and emotional needs. 

That core commitment to personalized education is infused into every IEP.  At CCA, the IEP tailors learning to the full range of child and family needs. A diverse array of practices make the IEP a complete, living document:

  • CCA Achieve courses meet children where they are, instructing them at grade level while filling in gaps in skills they haven’t mastered from previous grades. 
  • Interventions, occupational, speech and physical therapy, and BCBA (board-certified behavior analyst) therapy target the individual child’s needs.
  • Online delivery of lessons lets CCA teachers — who are assisted by state-certified special education staff— modify pacing to accommodate the needs of the child, instead of herding along entire classrooms. Real-time virtual classroom sessions are recorded, so children can view them again later, at a convenient time, as they try to understand new concepts.

Learn More About Commonwealth Charter Academy

Your child on the autism spectrum has so much to offer the world, but it takes effort to unlock that potential. Too often, traditional brick-and-mortar schools don’t hold the keys. CCA’s innovative online learning customizes the school day, for the benefit of children and their families. Tailored learning plans capture the full picture of the child’s unique abilities and passions. Children with ASD aren’t forced to conform to outdated norms of teaching to the group. At CCA, students on the autism spectrum are educated as the unique individuals that they are. Contact us today to learn more about personalized learning with CCA, and start guiding your child toward academic and personal success.

Author

Commonwealth Charter Academy

Published

March 30th, 2021

Category

Learning Lab

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