The difficulty of distance learning for young adults with autism

SOMERVILLE, Mass. — Since COVID-19 forced schools to close, many parents are now struggling with distance learning and it can be a real challenge for those living with autism.

The pandemic forced one local program to change the way it teaches and it appears to be working.

Zachary Sprinsky is 19 years old and graduated from Needham High School last June. Since then, he’s attended classes at 3L Place in Somerville. It provides programming for young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities.

“3L allowed him to get out in the community. He was learning how to take the T there, the commuter rail and had a lot of wonderful activities and it was the highlight of his week,” said Zachary’s mother, Ellen Sprinsky.

Due to the stay-at-home advisory, Zachary is no longer able to attend 3L Place. That means no more field trips to Chinatown or the State House. All the young adults are now participating in distance learning, which has its challenges.

“We have individuals who talk very little or talk non-stop and kind of have trouble understanding when it is someone else’s turn to talk. We also have people who have both body and emotional regulation issues so this was a tall task,” said Deborah Flaschen, CEO and founder of 3L Place.

Like many other schools, COVID-19 forced 3L Place to rely on Zoom technology for interaction. They now offer online lessons for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, four days per week.

“It’s a lifeline. it’s really really critical. individuals with autism need connection and structure and their families do, too,” Flaschen said.

That connection and structure is putting a lot of smiles on a lot of faces.

“Zachary is happy during that time and the rest of us enjoy hearing him laugh in the other room hearing him interact is everything,” said Sprinsky.

The demand for programs like 3L Place is likely to increase as autism is a growing developmental disability in the United States.

According to a new report from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 54 U.S. children were identified as having autism in 2016.

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