Best practices learned from 2020 about remote instruction for students with autism


With COVID rates fluctuating and schools opening and closing, nothing seems certain. But there are some takeaways from 2020 which we can employ to make sure teaching stays consistent, whether school is in-person or remote, said Alicia Balfrey, special education training specialist in her webinar, “Lessons Learned: Turning Challenges from 2020 into Opportunities for the Future for Students with Autism.”

Alicia Balfrey

She noted that teachers must have the proper tools to teach remotely. These include:

  • Video conference platforms (e.g. Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts)
  • Digital learning platforms, such as a learning management system and virtual learning environment (e.g. Google Classroom)
  • Comprehensive curricula for remote learning (for example, Primary SOLS from STAR Autism)
  • Digital presentation tools (e.g. Google Slides, Prezi, PowerPoint)
  • Interactive virtual activities (emphasis on “interactive”)
  • Cloud platforms, or hosting a software platform or service from the Internet (e.g. Amazon Web Services, Microsoft’s Azure, and Google Cloud Platform)
  • Web resources (pictures, websites, etc.)
  • Phone calls, emails, texts

Palfrey also showed some methods for remotely instructing students with autism. The first method is what she called “primary SOLS”, where the teacher coaches a caregiver or parent in real-time through the steps of teaching the student during a video conference. Balfrey showed a video in which the teacher, while in a Zoom session with a parent who was teaching the child, how to use a token board, when to give rewards, when to model wanted behavior, when to use verbal coaching only, how to label the action as she gave feedback, etc.

Primary SOLS — teacher coaches the parent/guardian in real-time with the student

In secondary SOLS, the teacher interacted directly with the student during a video conference. An example video was about sorting clothes into light and dark. The teacher sorted her own clothes and asked the student for advice on whether an item of clothing should go in the light pile or the dark pile.
In another secondary SOLS, the teacher talked to the student about the weather, and what day of the month it was, using pictoral aids.

Secondary SOLS — one-on-one with the student

In group SOLS, the teacher interacted with a group of students during a video conference. The example video showed the teacher at first recording each person’s feelings, showed pictorally how the student should behave, then continued with an activity chart of what would be covered that day.

A group greeting
Setting the rules for a virtual group

Above all, Balfrey stressed continuing to use evidence-based practices, collaborating closely with family members and caregivers, and making exercise consistent between remote and in-person learning..


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