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Helping Students with Autism Navigate a Socially Distanced Classroom

Originally Posted: eSchoolNews

While many educators and students are returning to the familiar classrooms left abruptly in March, teaching this upcoming year will be anything but business as usual. A recent edWebinar, Aimee Dearmon, Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) and Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), says the disruption of routines, schedules, classroom layouts, and necessary social distancing protocols will be challenging for our most vulnerable students with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Related content: Strategies for teaching students with autism

Even under the best circumstances, these populations struggle to adjust to changes, and now the struggle will be exacerbated due to COVID-19 safety protocols. Dearmon emphasizes that schools and educators need to develop safe and healthy classroom action plans for students with autism and other disabilities, including environmental arrangement, classroom organization, rotations, hygiene, and material sharing.

The biggest challenge with developing classroom action plans is establishing the same support level for these students while maintaining social distancing. Educators need to craft strategies and processes that meet health guidelines and ensure that students understand and adapt to new routines and behavioral expectations.

Dearmon recommends social scripts, video modeling, visual supports, and prompts. Using these ABA reinforcement tools, students with autism and other developmental disabilities can learn simple distancing protocols such as wearing a mask, walking in the hallway, and remaining apart from others in the school setting.

Learning new routines establishes a comfort level for these students to understand and allows them to predict how, what, where, and when learning will happen.

When educators utilize the tools, there is a significant reduction in student anxiety and stress, resulting in new habit formation. It is essential to remember to give students cues one time to provide a direction one time and then provide the students with a little bit of wait time.

It is crucial to recognize that we may overprompt students or offer too much assistance. Dearmon cautions that these strategies will result in students not having the necessary time to learn skills associated with socially distance protocols. She recommends starting with a less intense approach with verbal, visual prompts, or gesture prompts.

The new school year will be stressful for students with autism and other developmental disabilities. It is crucial that school districts take the time, use researched-based strategies, and design thoughtful learning opportunities that set students up for success—three to six feet away from each other.


Published inRemote LearningSpecial Education

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