What is the Best Learning Experience for Students with Autism?

Public school does not work for everyone. For some students, especially those with disabilities such as autism, public school can be traumatizing. Imagine this scenario:

What is the Best Learning Experience for Students with Autism?

Rob is a student with autism. He cringes and covers his ears as he walks down the halls of his high school. There are too many sounds and smells for him to process. He gets bumped into because the hallway is so packed. He arrives at Math class, sweaty and stressed out, with his anxiety levels at max.

Now, imagine this scenario:

Rob wakes up and calmly goes through his morning routinebreakfast, getting dressed, etc. At 9 a.m. he turns on his computer and logs in to his math class. Grover, his pup, lays at his feet while he works on a group project, via an online chat room, with three of his peers.

Many students struggle with the social and academic demands of a brick and mortar, traditional school. For them, online virtual school is an option. A virtual school is a school (private or public) students attend via the internet.

In most cases, they have “live” classes with access to teachers and even tutors for remedial purposes. They receive a quality education from the comfort of their home. Online schools offer disability services and will honor the modifications and services noted in a student’s IEP (Individual Education Plan).

Many parents like the flexibility virtual schools offer children. The virtual school day is not as long as a traditional school day, leaving more family time. For older students, this is ideal because they can learn the academic skills necessary to graduate and go to college, and their parents do not have to quit their jobs to homeschool them.

In most cases, parents may be involved as a learning coach, helping to make sure their student is on track, but they are not the teacher. Elementary through high school is offered online, but the lower grades may require more parental involvement than the upper.

For the most part, online schooling is the best option for a student who is unable to attend a traditional school due to bullying or other safety issues, but is he/she missing out? Part of the high school experience consists of prom, football games, and a big graduation ceremony.

What about the social opportunities he/she is missing out on? Online schools do have opportunities for socialization. Many even have virtual proms and monthly meet and greet opportunities. Most offer in-person graduation ceremonies as well.

Classes are online, but students still have the opportunity to collaborate with each other. Online schools allow students to take charge of their learning. Online learning requires organization, self-motivation, and effective time management, but with a little nudge from mom or dad, it is a doable process.

They offer advanced and remedial courses, as well as electives such as P.E., Art History, and Foreign Languages. Field trips and after school clubs are available too.

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At the end of the day, it is up to a parent and his/her child to determine what is the best fit for them. But the good news is there are options other than a traditional, brick and mortar school. Students can receive a free public school education from the comfort of their home.

An online, virtual school allows students to manage their own education and learn at the pace and speed best for them. And as an added perk—you can attend school in your pajamas!

My personal experience with online, virtual school:

My son was diagnosed with autism at the age of eight. He was succeeding in school academically. He has a genius IQ, but socially he struggled. He was impulsive, had restricted interests, and struggled with conversational skills, but he was a sweet child who loved animals, video games, and his little brother.

Unfortunately, he was bullied and ostracized throughout his intermediate school experience. It broke my heart to imagine him sitting by himself at lunch. One day he came home from school, covered in dirt because another child said he would be my son’s friend if he let him throw dirt on him.

Nope, he did not become his friend. My son came to me one day, crying, saying he just wanted a friend, just one friend. At that point, we turned to other educational opportunities. He attended a small, Christian private school for sixth to eighth grade, and then we supplemented high school with online, virtual learning.

I did not realize how unhappy my son was until I saw the transformation that took place when he left public school. I teach at a public school, but I believe it is not for everyone, my son included. Some days I get angry when I think about him missing out on everyday high school events, such as school plays, dances, after school clubs, and simply hanging out with a friend in the hallway.

I hate that some students are mean and bully other students to the point of physical harm. Why? But when that happens, I have to remind myself my child is safe and happy, and hopefully, other students are finding their niche with online learning.

“Every student can learn, just not on the same day, or in the same way.”—George Evans

This article was featured in Issue 106 –Maintaining a Healthy Balance With ASD

Crystal Gallagher

Crystal Gallagher

Crystal Gallagher is a special education teacher, doctorate student, and mom of two sons with autism. She lives in Chesapeake, Virginia. Crystal enjoys spending time with her sons and her two dogs, Addy Jo (Toy Aussie) and KoKo (Corgi). Crystal will continue to advocate for students and parents who have been impacted by autism.