With the ongoing COVID-19 situation, many schools and education centers have tapped on online resources to help children continue their learning. Online learning can be challenging for students with autism (ASD). Besides the lack of a physical environment that is specific for learning (e.g. a classroom or therapy room), as well as the absence of a physical and consistent structure (e.g. the physical presence of a teacher, timetable, bells, textbooks/printed materials), some skills, such as social skills, are harder to achieve online. For children with ASD, this challenge is compounded by compliance issues or other behavior challenges.
At Autism Partnership, we constantly innovate and adapt to maximize our students’ learning. As our focus is on Early Intervention with younger children, it is crucial to ensure that your child is constantly learning. Below are some tips from our Site Director, Ms. Sherrianne Cheah (MSc ABA), on how to make online learning successful for your young child.
1. Teach your child how to use the computer and software involved
For children who are able and to encourage independence, the first step before attending an online class is to ensure that your child is able to use the teaching device and software. Teaching your child how to use the technology involved before class, will help to make the online learning smoother. To start the teaching process, you can paste stickers on the computer display to highlight the buttons involved. Repeat and practice the steps with your child. Provide prompts along the way to familiarise him or her with the set-up. You should also be available during the online learning session to provide technical support and to assist them if required.
2. Minimize distraction in the environment
Online learning requires students who are self-disciplined and self-motivated. The common challenge all online learners face is being distracted by activities at home. For young learners, we have to identify what may disrupt their attention and remove the distraction during lessons. Some of which could be their toys, electronics or other preferred activities. We can also consider using these activities as rewards when they complete an online lesson without being distracted. With practice, we can increase their self-control from these potential distractions in the environment.
3. Develop the habit of following a timetable/schedule at home
Another way to minimize the effect of distractions at home is to create a timetable that is well-balanced with learning, leisure, and other daily activities. As suggested previously, we can arrange preferred activities as rewards after online classes or tasks. Letting your child be involved in creating their own timetable may also increase their willingness to follow the schedule. Gradually, with the use of alarm reminders, your child can be taught to follow the timetable independently.
4. Simulate scenarios with common technical issues that may occur during the online session
When your child encounters problems, he or she may not have the necessary problem-solving skills and may get upset easily. To prevent such situations, we should anticipate potential problems, and teach students the adequate response beforehand. This process may involve testing several functions on the device or software, asking the instructor or caregiver for help, and returning to the instruction that the student has missed when problems occurred. If necessary, we may have to gradually increase the students’ tolerance to technical issues by creating simulated scenarios. This will help to reinforce them to stay calm when a problem occurs. You can also utilize situations that have occurred previously as new learning opportunities.
5. Ensure the child has the necessary prerequisite skills
Prior to the online session, do ensure the child has the necessary compliance and attention to focus for a sustained period of time. These are skills that can be practiced in their physical sessions and as part of parent training. Online learning has now become a key component in learning for students worldwide. Hence, it’s important to prepare our children to acquire more independent online learning skills, and ensure that learning continues to be effective.
Sherrianne Cheah (MSc ABA), Site Director
Sherrianne Cheah Site Director Sherrianne Cheah holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Child Development from the University of Kansas. Since 1991, she has been working with children who have varying special needs. She was in charge of setting up curriculum and running the Early Intervention programs at Dover Court Preparatory School and Horizon Centre for Special Education. Before joining Autism Partnership, Sherrianne had her own private practice as a Remedial Therapist, working with both mainstream and children with special needs. She has been working with children with autism in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis since 2001, under the direct supervision of Dr Ronald Leaf, Dr John McEachin and Mr. Toby Mountjoy. Since its inception in 2004, Sherrianne has been directly responsible for staff training and case management. She has also been instrumental in conducting social communication skills groups and workshops in both mainstream and special needs schools. She has been involved in international consults to families and institutions in the region; and has also conducted AP workshops and talks to agencies in Singapore. She is presently the Site Director of AP Singapore and has a Masters of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) from St. Cloud State University.