Some Children With ADHD And Autism Thrive In Online School Over In-Person : NPR

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A girl shows her virtual classmates an art project she created in the online school.

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Bobby is a sixth grader at North Brookfield Elementary School in western Massachusetts. He’s crazy about the Loch Ness monster. He likes math and Minecraft. And he likes to study online.

“It’s a lot easier to focus,” he says. “I can be in my room and feel a lot more comfortable doing things.”

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This is a welcome destination for the many parents who worry about their children falling behind while virtually learning during the coronavirus pandemic. But some realize that their children do better in online school. In most cases, this is the case with students who concentrate better when they are not around classmates.

Bobby has ADHD and sometimes has seizures. (NPR doesn’t use surnames to protect student privacy.) This means the 11-year-old has to take frequent breaks from class, whether it’s because of a seizure or just walking around the room to get something from his energy out. Although he already had some accommodation when the school was in person, online learning makes it easy for him to adapt to his own needs.

Another benefit for Bobby is that all of his tasks, readings, and instructions are stored on his computer. His mother, Tashena Holmes, says that’s because Bobby got in trouble because of a lack of chores.

“While distance learning is usually about videos, he can rewind them as many times as he wants and all the information is right there for him to read again,” she says.

Andrea Parrish, researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Education and director of development and learning systems at IDEALS, says some parents of children with autism have reported that their children do well online too.

“The social component is taken out in many ways,” says Parrish, who works with students from vulnerable communities. “There isn’t that expectation of face-to-face communication, so a lot of kids enjoy it. They prefer it.”

Parrish also says that in order to be successful in online school, children usually need to be able to identify their needs and regulate themselves, like Bobby, for example, who knows he will get up and run around from time to time got to.

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Some school districts are considering ways to accept such students when they return to face-to-face study.

The Sioux City Community School District, Iowa, will launch an online permanent learning program this fall. Up to 1,000 children – 1 in 15 students – are expected to be registered for the first semester.

“There’s a lot of excitement about this as a new option, as a new way to learn,” says district superintendent Paul Gausman.

Ava, 16, will be senior next year and is one of the students who signed up for the program. Like Bobby, she has ADHD and is doing better academically without the distraction of personal schooling.

“Before the virtual time, when I was in person, I had almost all of the F’s, but now I’ve had all of the A’s since the virtual,” she says.

Ava misses her friends, but she and her family have decided that their education is more important right now. And her family is incredibly proud of her.

“It just flies and hovers over what we had imagined,” says her mother Candas Mackie.


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