September 6, 2020

Happy new school year! As many of us return to virtual classes, here are some ideas that have helped me (as an autistic teacher and TA) as well as my students (who are autistic or otherwise neurodivergent).

MOVE AROUND – I like to pause class to lead the students in a super quick exercise, like jumping jacks or side lunges. After class ends, I roll around on my carpet – it’s a great source of “proprioceptive input,” which helps to reduce Zoom fatigue and prepare me for the next class.

VISUAL PLANNING – The students at my school all use Google Calendar, which includes the Zoom links for each class, but I prefer something tactile: A class schedule made from squares of colorful paper, taped to the side of my fridge.

PERFORM LESS – I leave my video off entirely during staff meetings, and some students do so in class, but I can’t when I’m teaching. Instead, I click “Hide self view” to be less distracted by the faces I’m making, since that’s exhausting to monitor.

VALIDATE FEELINGS – Many students feel overwhelmed by the new ways of learning, and frustrated by uncertainty about when we’ll return to the old ways. I try to offer ways to express those emotions, even if they can’t do so in words. For example, I ask how overwhelmed they feel on a scale of 1 to 5, then reassure them that it makes sense to feel the way they do.

PRAISE EVERYTHING – No matter how much teachers do to make virtual learning easier, it’s still the hardest thing some of our students have ever done. Therefore, I try to recognize their efforts as much as possible. Made it to class on time? That’s cause for celebration! Asked a question? Great self-advocacy! Answered a question incorrectly? Hooray for brave participation! And hooray for teachers too, as we lead our students through a world that we’re discovering as we go.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.