Online Learning : A Good Fit for Students with Autism?

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 12, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)


Background: Adolescents with autism are heavy users of technology for entertainment. What is not well known is how they use it to support learning. Navigating the high social demands of high school can be overwhelming for many students with autism causing stress and anxiety. Online learning may be a way for these students to take courses, in particular in subject areas of interest that may not be available in their local high school, thus helping to better prepare them for life after high school. However, there is very little literature on the compatibility of online learning for students with autism. Taking courses from the comfort of a quiet classroom dedicated to online learning, or even from home, may be another way to help adolescents with autism better transition to higher education and/or careers of interest.

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of online learning for secondary students with autism. Specifically, in what ways do they find online learning beneficial and what subjects are they taking.

Methods: This study used a paper survey with 275 high school students with autism from 30 high schools spread across 3 states in the US. The majority of participants are male (87%), white (72%), without ID (93%), and on track to graduate high school with a regular diploma (100%).

Results: This study found that while only 27% of participants had an online learning experience, 52% indicated they were favorably disposed to taking one in the future. Of those students who had an online experience, the majority found it beneficial mostly due to their ability to control the amount of time they needed to learn. 55% said they liked learning online because they could take as little or as much time as they needed to work on the course and 48% said they liked it because they could work on it anytime they wanted to. Regarding the reduction in social interaction through online learning, only 19% said they liked it because they did not have to interact with the teacher and 18% because they did not have to interact with other students. Most participants took courses in subjects related to science and math.

Conclusions: Students with autism who have experienced online learning find it beneficial for the control it gives them over when and the amount of time they devote to the learning. Reasons related to a reduction in social interaction were less important. Online learning has potential to help young adults with autism to ease into higher education or to fill gaps in their knowledge using online courses as they transition to adulthood.