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Distance Learning on the Spectrum: Setting Up for Success

The abrupt shift to distance learning left many families, children, educators and administrators uneasy during an uncertain time. With drastic changes in routines, loss of social connections to friends and teachers, and an immediate need to cope with an ever-changing reality; individuals on the autism spectrum may need additional support navigating their new world of remote learning.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 59 individuals are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, (ASD), leaving this population one of the fastest growing demographics currently impacting our society. Students with ASD enrolled in the public education system receive a wide variety of accommodations, related services, and supports outlined in their Individual Education Plan (IEP). Once the pandemic hit, educational teams, service providers, and families struggled with meeting the needs outlined in the child’s IEP. For a population that thrives off a structured, predictable and consistent learning environment, attempting to recreate the ideal classroom within the home has been a challenge.

Although structure and consistency can be idiosyncratic, the following strategies and supports can be incorporated into your home to assist your child with accessing their online education.

  • Determine a daily designated space/location for learning that has minimal distractions and access to preferred stimuli (i.e, television, iPad, toys, etc.)
  • Provide your child with frequent breaks and time away from devices
  • Incorporate daily movement breaks and sensory supports, as needed
  • Implement a work-reward system to increase motivation and work output. For example: first you complete your math worksheet, then you can go outside.
  • Encourage social relationships, new and existing

Megan Knapp is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who specializes in working with individuals on the autism spectrum within the public school sector. Her passion for working with children with autism and the importance of early intervention began in college and has continued into her professional career. She currently resides in Orange County, where she enjoys spending time at the beach, cooking new recipes, and reading.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Autism Prevalence Rises in Communities Monitored by CDC. .  Published March 2020.

Cooper, Heron, and Heward (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd Ed.) Upper Saddle River, New Jersey : Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

Hume, K., Waters, V., Sam, A., Steinbrenner, J., Perkins, Y., Dees, B., Tomaszeweski, B., Rentschler, L., Szendry, S., McIntryre, N., White, M., Noewll, S., & Odom, S. (2020) Supporting individuals through uncertain times. Chapel Hill, NC: School of Education and Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved from:

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