Virtual Learning with Special Needs (Tips and Tricks)

Tips and Tricks for Virtual Learning

First, and foremost, I want to share this document. It was posted in September of 2020 by the federal government.  It supports the fact that children with special needs have legal rights to a free and appropriate education, even in a pandemic.  I’m not a lawyer and I won’t offer advice or opinions on how you might utilize this, but as a parent…it’s important to have.

In our household, we have had 4 virtual learners.  Some have ADHD, one has ADHD and Autism. On paper, I should have been the most ideal parent to be in this scenario.  Instead, I crashed and burned.  My resume includes special education and Autism classroom training, but in the context of my own home…I could not put this into place effectively (at first).

Some learners do better in a virtual setting.  There is scholarly research to support this observation.

Computer- and Robot-Assisted Therapies to Aid Social and Intellectual Functioning of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Skilled intervention through teletherapy takes sincere effort, animation, “outside the box” creativity, and training for the SLP….but it can be done and it can be incredibly effective.

For more information on the ideas and resources at UNC, check out these:

Parent Resources and Education at TEACCH

Online Webinars from TEACCH

I am happy to share my experience with you in the hopes that you can gain something from my initial failure in this setting.

What Do We Need?

1) Physical


means we need to organize our space in a way that says “it’s time for
learning”.  This may mean designating an area specifically for online
learning/teletherapy or repurposing a space.  For example, you could
make your dining room table become a learning center by changing the
placemats or putting up a sign that says “Class in Session”.

 Before Physical Structure

Top Picture: Epic Failure by Mom.  Why?

  1. The table was too big.  His feet didn’t touch the floor.
  2. There are no visuals in place.
  3. There is no schedule.
  4. He has no idea what we are doing and what comes next.  This leads to anxiety.

After Physical structure

Bottom Picture: Success (this was a fast and easy change)!

  1. I bought a desk that fit him.  (this felt like such a “duh” moment later, but at the time, I didn’t consider it as a factor).  This particular desk is adjustable and can tilt.  Perfect!
  2. He has a schedule to his right that tells him: what is now, what comes next.  Anxiety…gone! He stopped crying and appeared to be happy throughout the day.

I repurposed a rolling cart in our kitchen area. I loaded this with our activities for the day.
The blue crate at the bottom was pulled out and used as a “finished” box on the right hand side of the table.

Children generally learn better when the environment is set up left to right.  This is how we typically orient ourselves and how we read books.


(the colorful bins came from target online- they have been helpful for sorting work by child)

Check out this post on instagram that shared how we repurposed our dining room table prior to purchasing a desk.  Not every family has the ability to purchase new furniture or the space to put it.

2) A Schedule

A schedule tells us what is happening now and what is coming next.  Find more information on the importance of using visual schedules on the TEACCH website.

If you don’t have time to print and put together a schedule, we have found this one useful. 

If you prefer to make your own, have a digital version, or need more types of icons, I have this one in my TpT store. 

I recommend using the First…Then or First, Next Last as a system of “this is what’s happening”, rather than a reward system (how not to use: first work then ipad; how to use: first math, then speech).  This still has the effect of reducing anxiety and gaining task completion, but doesn’t teach that every task follows with a prize or treat.

-Home Learning Freebie by Panda Speech (requires printing and assembly

-Therapist-geared Freebie from Type B SLP (when you join her newsletter)

3. Materials and Resources

In addition to the items listed above, we found these helpful during online learning and teletherapy.

  •        Pencils: I found these on amazon. They are chunkier, heavier, and smaller

  • Calendars: We’ve tried a couple of different things. The first is a larger calendar like you might see in a pre-k, kindergarten, or special education classroom.   This sucker is big. It worked well for my Pre-K student…and I tried to use it for Lucas (to make his virtual circle time functional), but he did bend the cards.

    • This one is made by Mrs D’s Corner.  It does require ability to print, cut, laminate, put together, etc.  It may be more functional for you…and the binder comes with a whole set of morning work that is functional.  I want to make sure (as a parent) that what we are doing has a purpose.  Sure, we can spell Monday, but do we know it is Monday today?  Do we know what Monday means?


  • Social Stories and other related topics

4) Tips and Tricks for Staying on Task

  • How to lock orientation of ipad.
  • How to lock ipad into guided access.
  • Let your child stand to work, if helpful.
  • Try a bungee cord on the desk chair to allow for feet to bounce or as a “fidget” if they need to be in a chair.  This is great for “wiggle worms”, kids (and adults) with ADHD, and anyone who needs that extra movement to concentrate.

  5. Self Care

Lastly, I just want to point out that most teachers, therapists, and especially parents are experiencing tremendous burnout.  This is exhausting.  Go easy on yourself.  Teachers and therapists, parents are
depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed….you may be, too.  Please, please don’t give up on us or our children.  Even when we are cranky or angry…know that it’s because we love our children and we are just
plain exhausted.  Don’t give up on us or the amazing job you do.  


  • We may need to let some things go for survival.
  • We need to find some self care in whatever way possible.
  • We need to get our smiles back (all of us).


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My name is Elizabeth Hepler and I’ve been a practicing Speech-Language Pathologist since 2005.  I am the mother of four great kids. Our household is neurodiverse: ADHD, Autism, Gifted, and more!

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