The shift to distance learning due to the spread of COVID-19 has a toll on learners diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and hyperactivity, according to experts.
“Autistic learners are either hypersensitive or hyposensitive. Being hypersensitive means that one cannot tolerate screen light or computer sounds. On the other hand, hyposensitive means that the learner is not very responsive to the teacher calling on him or her from the other end of the screen,” Itidal Agha, an expert in raising awareness of special needs children, told The Jordan Times.
According to Agha, autistic learners require a complete and safe environment in order to learn. This environment can only be provided in schools since they are fully equipped with sensory materials that teachers can use to enhance the learning experience.
Hanan Al Awaisheh, a mother of an 11-year-old learner diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism, said that her son is very sensitive to loud voices. This issue was resolved in school by her son adapting to the noise in his classroom. However, online learning exacerbated the issue.
Reem Qunbaz, a mother of a nine-year-old autistic learner, said: “My daughter no longer wants to finish her school work. The routine that she was used to is studying at school and doing minor revisions at home. She is no longer willing to do that as she associates the house with the place where she can rest.”
Ola Dababneh, an English support teacher, described the situation to The Jordan Times: “Learners with autism who are enrolled in distance learning systems are deprived from the experience of learning in groups. The skills that they would obtain in learning groups can still be acquired at home but they require more time and effort on the part of the family and others involved in the education process.”
Unexpected changes in autistic learners’ routine coupled with lack of social interaction, has in some cases led to behavioural changes such as aggressiveness, anxiety, sensory collapse and self-talk, as observed by families and experts.
Dababneh added that students diagnosed with hyperactivity have a formidable challenge sitting still in front of the screen for the duration of each remote learning session, which is 45 minutes.
“My daughter is very hyperactive. It is a struggle for her to sit in a chair for five minutes. How can she sit for the whole duration of distance learning classes?” said Qunbaz.