I teach K–2 children on the autism spectrum in a 6-1-1 class. One week I work with my students in person and the next I work with them remotely.
We focus on increasing communication and verbal behavior. My students do not wear masks because of their sensory needs, so my staff and I are required to wear masks and face shields. Because my students cannot see my mouth, they are unable to observe and imitate the motor movements I make when vocalizing. I have to remind myself to clearly enunciate sounds and incorporate gestures and visual cues. I use exaggerated facial expressions and gestures, so they recognize when I’m giving them positive feedback.
The biggest challenge is ensuring a nurturing and supportive environment while maintaining safety. We encourage the kids to socialize, but we make sure they stay socially distant. Kids are curious, and they will pull on your mask because they want to know, what is this thing, why are you wearing it?
Remote learning presents different challenges. In a typical school year, we focus on establishing structure and routines and learner readiness. We build relationships with our students and engage them in fun activities to learn what motivates them. Everything is very hands-on. Now I build relationships with the kids and engage them over the computer. I’m constantly trying to find interactive activities that are stimulating and motivating enough to maintain their attention.
On Zoom I share my screen and give students control. They play matching activities, which gives them confidence before we go on to more challenging things. I send home work packets and dry erase boards and markers so they can practice tracing and writing to help develop their fine motor skills. I also send home manipulatives and interactive activities they can work on with their parents.
My students need time to reacclimate to the classroom when we return to the school building after a week of being remote. We need to address their social-emotional needs as much as their academics. There are so many variables right now. You have to be flexible and take it day by day.
— as told to staffers Trisha Arnold and Emily James, and reporter Linda Ocasio