Supporting Online High School Students with Autism

Most people don’t think about the challenges that face online school students with autism. Many assume these students have it easy because they don’t have to go to a physical school building. However, this is far from the truth. Online school students with autism often need more support than their peers in order to be successful.

This blog post will provide twelve ideas for supporting these students in the inclusive classroom.

12 Ideas for Supporting Students with Autism in Online Classrooms

Online teachers and parents can use a number of strategies to support students with autism in the inclusive classroom.

1. Create a Social Story

A social story is a tool that can be used to help students with autism understand and predict the events of their day. This tool can be particularly helpful for online students who may have difficulty understanding the expectations of a virtual classroom.

Social stories can be used to prepare students for a variety of situations, such as meeting a new teacher, going to a new school, or participating in online classes.

When creating a social story for an online student with autism, be sure to include the following:

  • A description of the situation
  • The expectations for behavior
  • Cues for how to react/ behave appropriately
  • A visual representation of the scenario (if possible)

This social story can be shared with the student before their first online class, or it can be used as a reference during the class.

2. Use Visual Supports

Visual supports are essential for supporting students with autism in the online classroom. These supports can take many forms, but they all serve the purpose of helping students to understand and engage with the material.

Some examples of visual supports that can be used in an online classroom include:

  • Flow charts
  • Graphic organizers
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Highlighting or bolding keywords in the text
  • Using a color-coded system to organize work
  • Using graphic organizers to help with note-taking.

When using visual supports, be sure to consider the individual needs of your students. Some students benefit from more detailed visuals, while others do better with simpler images. It is also important to provide students with a choice of visuals; as different students will prefer different types of support.

3. Offer Choices

Students with autism often benefit from having choices in the classroom. This could involve allowing them to choose which activities they would like to do or giving them a choice of how to complete an assignment.

In an online classroom, students can be given choices in several ways. For example, you could provide a list of potential activities for students to choose from, or you could give students the option to complete an assignment in either written or video format.

In addition, students can be given choices about how often they participate in class discussions. Some students may feel more comfortable contributing to a discussion once per week, while others may prefer to participate on a daily basis.

4. Break Down Tasks

Online school can be overwhelming for students with autism. To make it more manageable, break tasks down into smaller steps. For example, if a student is working on a research project, break the project down into smaller tasks such as finding sources, taking notes, and writing a draft.

This strategy can also be used when assigning homework. Rather than giving students one large assignment to complete, break the assignment down into smaller tasks that can be completed over a week.

5. Establish Routines

Students with autism often thrive when they have predictable routines. In an online classroom, you can establish routines by setting specific times for each class activity. For example, you could start each class with a 10-minute break, followed by 30 minutes of lecture, 20 minutes of group work, and 10 minutes of free time.

It is also important to be consistent with your use of visual supports and other accommodations. If you are providing students with a certain type of support, use it every time you teach the class. This will help students to feel more comfortable and confident in the online environment.

6. Use Technology

There are a number of technological tools that can be used to support students with autism in the online classroom. For example, many students benefit from text-to-speech software, which can be used to read text aloud. This is especially helpful for students who have difficulty reading or processing written information.

Other useful tools include:

  • Automatic page readers
  • Mind mapping software
  • Graphic organizers
  • Transcription software

When using technology, it is important to consider the individual needs of your students. Some students may prefer one type of tool over another, so it is important to provide a variety of options. In addition, make sure to provide students with instructions on how to use each tool.

7. Be Flexible with Deadlines

Students with autism often benefit from having flexibility when it comes to deadlines. In some cases, it may be necessary to give an extension on an assignment. In other cases, it might be helpful to allow the student to work on an assignment in small chunks over some time.

Additionally, be willing to adjust your expectations and provide alternate assignments when necessary. For example, if a student is struggling to complete a written assignment, you could ask them to record a video or audio presentation instead.

8. Encourage Social Interaction

While some students with autism may prefer to work independently, others may crave social interaction. When possible, encourage students to interact with their classmates online. This could involve participating in group discussions, working on collaborative projects, or playing online games together.

In addition, you can help students to build social skills by modeling appropriate behavior and providing opportunities for practice. For example, you could role-play different social scenarios or have students give presentations to their classmates.

9. Model Appropriate Behavior

One of the challenges of online school is that autistic students are not always in the same physical space as their peers. This can make it difficult for students with autism to understand and model appropriate social behavior.

One way to address this is to model appropriate behavior yourself. For example, if you are participating in a video chat, make sure to use eye contact and proper facial expressions.

You can also provide specific instructions for how to behave in different online spaces, such as “In the chat room, we use indoor voices” or “In the forum, we stay on topic.”

10. Help with Organizing and Time Management

Many students with autism struggle with organization. In the online classroom, this can manifest as difficulty keeping track of materials or losing work. This can be a challenge in a traditional classroom setting, but it can be even more difficult for students who are learning online.

There are a number of ways that you can help your students to overcome these challenges. Some of these ways include;

  • Providing them with a daily or weekly schedule that they can refer to when they are working on their assignments.
  • Helping them to create a system for organizing their materials. This might involve using color-coded folders or labeling their work with the date and assignment name.
  • Teaching them specific strategies for time management, such as setting a timer or breaking down tasks into smaller chunks.
  • Use a visual timer to help them keep track of how much time they have to complete each task.
  • It is also important to be patient and flexible when working with students who have difficulty with organization.

11. Offer Frequent Breaks

Students with autism often benefit from taking frequent breaks. This can help them avoid feeling overwhelmed or stressed and give them time to process the information they have learned.

In an online classroom, students can take breaks whenever they need to. This might mean taking a few minutes to walk around or drink water between tasks. It is also important that students have the opportunity to take a break during class if they are feeling overwhelmed.

If possible, provide students with a list of activities they can do when they need a break. This might include watching a short video, listening to music, or doing a puzzle.

It is also important to understand if a student needs to take a break in the middle of an activity. This can be disruptive to the flow of the class, but it is important to remember that the student’s well-being should always come first.

12. Use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool that can be used to support students with autism in the online classroom. This involves providing students with rewards for completing tasks or exhibiting desired behaviors.

Some examples of positive reinforcement that can be used in an online program include praise, verbal encouragement, high-fives, prizes, and points.

When using positive reinforcement, it is important to make sure that the rewards are meaningful to the student. For some students, this might mean giving them a small prize when completing their work. For others, it might be enough to give them verbal praise.

It is also important to make sure that the rewards are given immediately after the desired behavior is exhibited. This will help the student understand that they are rewarded for their good behavior.


Inclusive online classrooms can be a great way for students with autism to get the support they need while still participating in a regular classroom. Using the strategies outlined above, you can create a supportive and inclusive environment that meets the needs of all learners.

If you are looking for a comprehensive solution that takes care of all your needs as an educator, contact High School of America today. We offer a variety of online high school programs that cater to students on the autism spectrum, and our experienced team will work with you every step to ensure that each student has a successful learning experience.