Challenges not only for students with autism
Over the past 10 months, the Corona pandemic has obviously taken a toll on school systems, teachers, students and their parents. If even adults groan at the lack of predictability in schools, what might it be like for students with autism, who need predictability so much more? This group finds it difficult when schedules, learning locations, teaching methods, and contacts change from one day to the next. Often this causes significant stress and triggers serious behavioral problems.
Now Christmas is coming and the second lockdown has been determined necessary in Germany. Did it have to come to this? What can we learn from countries that have been more successful in combating the crisis so far? What help is available through individual solutions, online learning and qualified teaching assistants for children and adolescents with autism?
Too much discussion and too slow actions
What the world surely wishes most urgently for Christmas is that the pandemic comes to a stop and that schools and the rest of society return to regular operations. This goal seems to be achieved, especially in Asian countries, and it makes one wonder, why they have been so much more successful.
Astonishing statistics (https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus).
Distancing, masks, hygiene and online schooling are hardly questioned in successful countries!
Successful emergency response at the beginning of the pandemic in Singapore (5 mill. inhabitants, 29 deaths)
Today! (12.15.2020) only ONE new infection.
Online Team-teaching in Singapore
Lessons for the future?
Even though flexibility is necessary in times of an unpredictable virus, the threat of Covid 19 in Germany has obviously been underestimated compared to the above examples. Compared to the German ups and downs of the rules, many Asian countries as well as New Zealand and Australia took quicker and more uniform actions to effectively manage the crisis. Considering the current emergency situation, sustainable, binding solutions are becoming increasingly important.
How can students with autism benefit from online instruction?
As early as in the nineties, we were able to show that computer programs motivate children with autism and that language and social behavior could be developed even in severely impaired children. In the meantime, differentiated communication apps, learning programs, video and data systems are available.
Wishes, not only for Christmas!
Even if the vaccine defeats Covid-19 next year, schools will not emerge from the crisis unchanged. Perhaps the pandemic will enable the German education system to catch up more quickly with international standards and push ahead with e-learning, innovative teaching methods, teacher training and inclusion. After all, Germany also has good models, which could be explored.
It would be desirable if decision-makers consider the experiences of students, teachers and parents over the past few months. In addition comparison with other countries can set appropriate standards. Instead of giving covid deniers and conspiracy theories a platform in the media, it would certainly be more helpful to publicly discuss successful school models from Germany and abroad.
Online learning urgently needs to be further developed so German students are better prepared for the demands of the future or even for a possible new crisis. It is certainly not easy to convince and inspire older teachers who are not familiar with technology.
Children and adolescents with autism need special protection and require effective assistance to learn successfully. Smaller learning groups, autism-specific measures with increased and effective use of online learning options, as well as qualified school shadows will also be helpful when returning to regular classes.
Maybe the shutdown period during the Christmas season can be used in Germany to develop concrete plans for the challenges above.
In any case, I wish you a safe Christmas season, a healthy 2021, and maybe even a few more effective laptops or iPads with good learning programs!
Vera Bernard-Opitz, December 2020