World Autism Awareness Day And Distance Education: How Do Both Connect?

When I woke up this morning, I saw this message from the Board.

For the last four years, I’ve published a blog post reflection on World Autism Awareness Day. This year’s blog post will be a little different, as our world right now is also different.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the students that I’ve taught over the years who are on the Autism Spectrum. For them, routine is often key. All of these changes in routine right now, including the fact that schools are closed, I would predict would be very challenging for these children in particular. I keep looking at some of the Twitter and Instagram posts from educators and moms, like Andrea Haefele, who capture many of the things that they do at home to support learning needs and routine.

Now that distance learning will begin on Monday, I’ve thought about what this might mean for children with autism. This is a question that I’ve seen shared on social media, and even addressed as educators and administrators explore home learning possibilities. I’m not going to pretend to have all of the answers here. This year, like many in the past, is another year when I’m not teaching children identified on the Autism Spectrum, but I do have some thoughts around programming.

  • What about the use of a task analysis to break down some home learning options for kids? When I was teaching Grade 5, I wrote this task analysis for one of my students. Now she was able to read, could process short sentences and simple questions, and could follow a longer set of instructions. Each child is different. Some children might benefit from pictures with single words. Shorter activities might be better for some students. But even if a task analysis cannot be printed, children could follow and use it on a device. 

  • What about the inclusion of life skills as part of the learning program? As Manny Figueiredo mentions in this CBC article, there are some YouTube videos that might be helpful. Kids could apply what they learned by then trying tasks on their own or with other family members. Dressing, sorting laundry, cooking, and setting the table are just some ideas that come to mind. 
  • What about using items from around the house for an independent work station? I know that this might not be ideal, but there are probably way more things that you can use than you might think. I realize that independent work stations look different for each child, but here are some ideas that come to mind based on things that I’ve used in the past.


Thanks to Deanna McLennan, who showed how to make puzzles out of boxes. What a simple, inexpensive idea. Puzzle difficulty can also be modified based on the number and the shape of pieces cut. 


Socks, mittens, or gloves could all be great for matching activity possibilities. Put some together in a basket, and children need to find pairs and place them together. 

Printing or Writing

I’ve included some printing or writing pages for an independent work station before. You might not have access to these at home, but even printing some words on a piece of paper for a child to trace or copy could work. Or, depending on the child, you could always write his/her name at the top of the paper, cut out the letter cards (from another sheet of paper), and have your child put the letters in order. Writing on the back of a cardboard box could make the materials sturdier for multiple uses. 


Use old egg cartons or ice cube trays for sorting. Collect small items from around the house, and have your child sort them by colour, for example. You could always colour in the bottom of each egg carton piece or ice cube square to act as a guide for your child. Smaller numbers of items might be beneficial at first and then you can add more. 

Letter or Number Match

Thinking about Deanna’s activity above, I wonder about cutting letters or numbers out of boxes and then having your child match them. Magnetic letters or ones created by you could also work, but a cereal box option might be a cheaper and easier alternative. 

  • What about social skills support? Kids might not be able to meet in person, but we could arrange some small group meetings online. Maybe children could even play a simple game together during a Google Hangout with the educator there to help facilitate some of the social interactions. My teaching partner, Paula, and I explored Google Hangouts yesterday and it’s actually quite simple to use and a Board provisioned tool. We could certainly work with a small group here in addition to the full class.

  • What about online story options? There are so many books available online now with read aloud options. Many authors are also reading books through their Facebook accounts. Depending on the story, you might also be able to do a read aloud through a virtual platform such as Google Hangouts. Stories can be great for highlighting different skills and introducing new vocabulary. There are also a lot of rhyming stories available that provide choral reading possibilities.

All kids are different, and as I write this post, I realize that it might be easy for me to make suggestions, but that I am not going to be the one implementing them. These ideas also stem from my experiences teaching children with autism in an integrated setting. Student needs and program supports might (and likely would) be very different in a self-contained classroom.

But with this in mind, almost all educators will have to program and plan for students with different skill sets. We might need to …

  • provide various activities,
  • suggest different resources (maybe even ones in various languages),
  • explore “read-to-me” options (where the device reads text aloud to kids),
  • look at multiple ways for children to share their learning (from an oral recording to an artistic representation to a written piece),
  • and explore low-tech and high-tech possibilities depending on access (just because ideas might be suggested online doesn’t mean that all learning needs to take place on a computer screen).

Everyone right now is doing the best that he/she can based on the most unexpected of circumstances. World Autism Awareness Day though made me stop and think about what might be possible for all kids, even when programming and planning might seem out of reach. The Coronavirus is forcing all of us to think differently. I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t had my own breakdown moments of, “How are we ever going to put a play-based kindergarten program online?” But if nothing else, the last couple of weeks have taught me that a deep breath, creative thinking, and a push to try something new often makes the impossible seem possible. 

A week ago, I would have not have used the word “excited” to describe anything about our new educational reality …

… but now Paula and I have both done so. It’s about perspective. Maybe it’s also about the chance to see, connect with, facilitate, and teach kids again. So on World Autism Awareness Day, I wonder, how are we meeting all learning needs? What is possible? In the midst of a pandemic, it seems like the perfect time for us to push the boundaries of what we know and create new possibilities. We can choose angry. We can choose frustrated. Or we can choose hopeful. I’m going with the third option. What about you?


2 thoughts on “World Autism Awareness Day And Distance Education: How Do Both Connect?

  1. Hi Aviva and Paula, this was of great interest to me as I am tutoring several weeks boys who are on the spectrum, both quite functional in their respective classrooms.
    I tried to do a session with the older brother of one student, and, despite his learning challenges, it seemed to go ok as long as mom was on the sidelines. However, although A was excited and keen to connect, the actual’ learning’ part was hugely problematic, even with mom by his side. This was exactly what I predicted would happen.
    Thank you both for your thoughtful approach to all of this. I continue to learn from you both, even if I don’ t always acknowledge it!
    Stay well, be safe.

    • Thanks for sharing, Jill! Would a recording of a video help from a learning perspective? I wonder about something like FlipGrid. Then he can share orally too, but the connecting/learning component could happen separately instead of simultaneously. Not sure if this would be a good option or not, but curious what you end up doing. I think that this new normal has a lot of us trying things, reflecting, and trying again. Hopefully we can also share with each other (and learning from each other) as part of the process!


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