The Special Challenges of Autism and Online Learning

Whether you are completing your first degree, going back to school after a long break, or conducting self-study for career advancement, you should be prepared to take your studies online. Over the past few months, with widespread stay-at-home orders, collectively we’re seeing the importance of virtual classrooms. However, for many students, this shift to digital learning can be a big hurdle to overcome. Coming from structured, in-person, or on-campus classes, switching to staring at a screen on your own, this new era of education is requiring new skills and new tools!

According to some experts, even after this pandemic crisis has passed, online learning and telecommuting will likely continue to a greater degree than it had before. Attending school in 2020 and beyond will undoubtedly look different than it had a decade ago. So, how can we move with the times, and settle into distance learning, without sacrificing productivity or motivation?

As with many of life’s challenges, it’s important to approach this from many angles. I’ve found that addressing physical, mental, and lifestyle factors is key to making any successful shift. Just doing one or the other often isn’t enough for most people, but particularly in unusual or stressful times as these. When we’ve lost our usual routines, it’s easy to get sucked into unhelpful habits, like watching a lot of TV, scrolling endlessly through social media, boredom-snacking, and other common responses to stress. If this is where you’re at right now, it’s okay- be gentle with yourself- and remember that you can always get back on track.

For students of all ages and backgrounds, the same tips and tricks apply. Here are some ideas to help you be more successful with your online learning, through this pandemic and beyond:

1. Connect with classmates

Even if you are stuck alone in your apartment, there’s no need to completely isolate yourself in your online learning. One of the best parts of online classes is the incredible, diverse community that you’re a part of! Take the time to connect with these other humans, sharing this class with you. Participate in discussions or forums, find a study buddy or two, or even organize virtual events with your classmates. Not only will this help you feel more connected, but it can also serve to motivate you to keep up with assignments.

2. Create a pleasant study space

If there is clutter, dirty dishes, or other distractions everywhere you look, it will be much more difficult to stay on top of your classwork. Try to set aside a dedicated space for your classes and studying/homework, preferably one that is away from the mess and clutter. Perhaps claim a desk or table, and clean everything off except for your schoolwork and perhaps a vase of flowers or other touchstone. Resist the urge to log on to your courses from your bed, or reclining on your couch too- this doesn’t invite an alert or productive mindset. Teach your brain that your study space is not for checking Instagram, but is for tuning into your courses or studying without distractions. Supplements like Spectrum Support I can also help your brain stay tuned into what matters.

3. Put in on your calendar

Whether or not your online courses have set meeting times, it’s a great idea to schedule your class time on your own calendar. Block off an hour to watch a lecture, or study for an exam, and hold yourself to it! I love to use my Google calendar to plan out my day or week ahead, and utilize the reminder functions to keep me on task. Understand how many hours per week your classes will require, and don’t wait until the last minute to try to cram them all in. Take advantage of whatever calendar or scheduling apps you like, to set your school hours.

4. Plan ahead

If your course includes assignments, homework, exams, presentations, or other important events, it’s smart to be able to see all of these ahead of time. Look through your course syllabus, and write down all these critical dates, somewhere that you’ll see them- a printed list or calendar on your fridge perhaps. Our human brains aren’t great at future planning, so take the stress off your mind by writing down key due dates, color-coding your calendar, or whatever method works for you. Don’t assume you’ll just remember, or that someone will remind you- this is a recipe for last-minute disaster.

5. Eliminate the distractions

The #1 complaint I hear about online learning is the distractions. It can be so hard to stay focused and keep up with classes when you’re at home. There will always be nagging chores to be done, pets to be played with, snacks to be made, and TV shows to be watched. It’s easy to make excuses as to why you need to pause the lecture and do xyz, but the more you do this, the more you’ll fall behind. Use your scheduled time, in your designated study space, to set aside everything else. Turn off the TV.  Mute your phone. Make sure you’ve eaten and used the restroom. And perhaps have a fresh cup of tea with you - I like Our Healing Tea from Our Botanicals!

6. Find your rhythm

One of the perks of online learning is the flexibility. You can choose (most of the time) when you log on for classes, when you study, and how. Take advantage of this opportunity by making your education work for you, and suit your unique learning style. Perhaps you’re more of a morning person, or you’re a night owl. Maybe you like having classical music on in the background, or perhaps work best in silence. Perhaps you focus best after tidying the kitchen, doing some exercise, or taking a supplement like Tranquility Lab's Serenity Hemp Oil. Get into a rhythm with your school and non-school hours, and tailor them to your most productive times.

7. Don’t forget your self-care

You can make all the scheduling or lifestyle changes you want, but if you’re not resting, moving, and fueling your body appropriately, you may still struggle with your online classes. Make sure you’re prioritizing sleep, knowing that you may need to lean on natural sleep aids like melatonin or SleepFast during uniquely stressful times like these. Resist the urge to sit or recline all day, but instead set reminders to get up and move at least every hour. Remember to take your herbs and supplements, especially immune-boosting ones like Medi-Shrooms. And lastly, put your nutrition at the top of your list, even when school feels hectic. Fuel your brain and body with fresh, homemade food whenever possible.

Whether your online learning experience is a temporary one, or you continue with virtual studies after this pandemic is over, it’s great to keep these tips in mind. With the right preparation and mindset, you can stay ahead and keep your grades up, no matter what happens.

Written by Melani Schweder