Distance Learning for Students on the Autism Spectrum: Just Keep Swimming

By Barbara Boroson

This spring, life as we knew it was whisked away as abruptly as bottles of hand sanitizer from drugstore shelves, leaving us suspended in a state of frantic disorientation.

As we all struggle to course-correct in these uncharted waters, our students on the autism spectrum are especially off-balance. They tend to be destabilized by unexpected change and deviations from routine. And now, not only are their comfortable routines toppled, but the rules that they cling to in order to feel safe and calm have been tossed aside. Self-constructed rules like The school day starts with a bus ride; without a bus ride, school cannot start, or Teachers teach at school; not at home, can make remote learning a nonstarter for these students.

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Supporting All Learners During Remote Learning

By Kathryn Nieves, a special education teacher at Sparta Middle School in New Jersey

When my school district called me on a Thursday evening, I did not have to answer to know what the message said. I knew it meant we were going into remote learning. As a special education teacher, I worried about IEPs, accommodations, modifications, and, in short, just supporting the emotional needs of my students. Although my students have 1:1 Chromebook devices and experience using them, I knew we still faced many obstacles. The following are tips for supporting all learners that I have discovered throughout my journey (so far) in this uncharted area of education.

Stick with the technology they know first

    As an advocate of educational technology and a Google Trainer, I’m the first person to dive into using a new tool. Even though I was getting almost hourly updates from different edtech companies offering free accounts or trials, I knew this was not the time for me to try out all these tools with my students. For the first few weeks, I kept it consistent. I used tools where my students had a level of comfort and familiarity. Since moving into a fully online platform was new for them, I did not want to add more novelty to the pile until they felt more comfortable.

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ADHD: Recognizing the Symptoms

Children who have ADHD present predominantly with symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, or a combination of these symptoms. The disorder has had numerous names over the last several decades: minimal brain damage, minimal brain dysfunction, hyperkinetic reaction of childhood, attention- deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity, and, since 1987, attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Diagnosing ADHD

Symptom lists that are used for the diagnosis of ADHD are split into inattentive and hyperactive- impulsive criteria. If an individual has six or more symptoms from both lists, he or she would be diagnosed with ADHD, combined presentation. If an individual has six or more symptoms in one list but not the other, he or she would be considered to have ADHD, predominantly inattentive or ADHD, predominantly hyperactive- impulsive form.

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