We are hiring! Join our team today and improve the lives of people with autism!
Click here to learn more.


Addressing Issues with Virtual Learning and Wearing a Mask

2020 was a trying year for everyone, especially children with special needs and their teachers. As I’ve talked to families, I’ve seen many issues arise that have never been a problem in the past. Most seem to center around two primary topics: virtual learning and mask wearing.

Here are some of the more specific issues I have encountered about these topics:

Virtual learning

  • Students are unsuccessful with virtual learning due to cognitive, attentional, and/or behavioral issues.
  • Students have trouble accessing home and community-based services due to the number of hours they are technically “in school.”


Mask/shield wearing

  • Students cannot wear mask/shield due to developmental level.
  • Students refuse to wear mask/shield due to behavioral or sensory issues.
  • Students not being allowed to attend school without a mask/shield.


Here are some tips and strategies that I have found to be helpful:

Virtual learning

  • Ask for a contingency plan. Contingency plans alter the IEP during virtual learning ONLY. This plan has options for shortening the amount of time your child must participate in the virtual platform. It will address which goals/objectives can be worked on in the virtual format. Some children have received as little as 15 minutes virtually with the rest of their education done asynchronously (paper/pencil, manipulatives, learning videos, etc.). This can also help families receive those home/community-based services because of the shortened school day. Asynchronous work can be done anytime that works best for the child and family.
  • If the virtual format is failing for your child, you will need to collect data to prove this. Ask your teacher for data tracking sheets or develop your own. Video clips and work samples are also data collection devices.
  • Make sure that it is well-documented in the IEP that the virtual learning is not a successful platform for your child. This may assist in making a case for Compensatory Education
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for face-to-face learning opportunities. This will probably be denied but you can at least have documented that you asked. Make sure that they write in the IEP why they turned it down. I have seen some schools who put it in the Prior Written Notice at the end of the IEP. Some have refused to do this because it isn’t an IEP team decision. If this happens then ask for it to be part of the Parent Input section.
  • Make sure you have access to accommodations/modifications listed in your child’s IEP if possible.


We have several toolkits about the IEP available on our Toolkits page.


Mask wearing

  • Make sure you give current information about your child’s developmental level. Not everyone should be expected to wear a mask.
  • Ask the team to work with your child on building a tolerance to the mask during in-person learning. They will need to take data to see if a goal needs to be added to the child’s IEP for tolerance to a mask. This may require that your child’s school day be shortened. If the child’s school day is shortened it should be listed in the IEP as to why. If any of these options are refused, then that must also be listed in the IEP under Prior Written Notice (the very last section of the IEP).


We have resources about wearing a mask available on our website:

Blog: Working through the Challenges of Wearing a Mask

Social Narrative: Wearing a Mask

Social Narrative: People Around Me Are Wearing Masks


Keep in mind that the Federal Office of Special Education Programs have determined that there are no waivers from the special education laws. Students are still required to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment. It is fair to write local/state board members that your child is being denied of these rights. Sometimes a gentle nudge is all it takes to make a difference.


Related Resources from the Autism Society of North Carolina

Blog: Addressing School Concerns During COVID-19

Webinar: Autism and Covid-19: Teaching the Rules in this New Norm

Webinar: Tips and Strategies to Use During COVID 19

Webinar: Structuring Your Child’s Academic Day

More resources are available on our COVID-19 page.


Teresa Mebane, an Autism Resource Specialist in the Wilmington area, can be reached at tmebane@autismsociety-nc.org or 910-332-0261.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.