Different-abled students learn life skills virtually amid pandemic

Oakland University educator works with students with autism online

The coronavirus pandemic has created many hurdles for special education teachers looking to provide students the life skills they need to succeed.

But now, we’re seeing how some teachers are making it work -- virtually.

At Oakland University, Miss Kelsey teaches a pre-employment skills class that is part of the Joanne and Ted Lindsay Foundation’s Autism Outreach Services. All of her students -- or participants, as they call them -- have some degree of autism.

When working on teaching soft skills like staying focused, or more specific situations like interviews, teaching virtually with an aspect of autism has its challenges -- especially maintaining attention. Teachers like Miss Kelsey have to be performers too, to be loud and animated, just to keep focus.

“Everything that they love is at their disposal. All the distractions, their cell phones, computers, toys,” Miss Kelsey said. “For me, it’s a great way to pull them in when I get to be as theatrical as possible.”

One of the biggest tools for a special education teacher is positive reinforcement: Stickers, games, hugs and high fives are big motivators. Virtually, those motivators don’t exist, so Miss Kelsey says she pulls them into one-on-one meetings to let the students know how well they’re doing.

One issue they haven’t found a way around yet is part of the curriculum.

“For interview skills, one thing we work on is body language,” Miss Kelsey said. “So we rely on background noise to see if there are behaviors, because we can’t see them all like we could in person.”

Despite the challenges and obstacles, Miss Kelsey finds that this method of teaching is, in fact, working, thanks to committed teachers and students.

“It’s been illuminating to see nothing is hindering them,” Miss Kelsey said. “It’s really great to see that no matter what their challenges, they’re able to work through them when they want to succeed.”

You can watch the full report in the video above.


Related: Michigan school districts face difficult decisions surrounding in-person and virtual learning


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