Some Children With ADHD And Autism Thrive In Online School Over In-Person "It's a lot easier to focus," says one sixth grader with ADHD. While some students fell behind while learning virtually during the pandemic, others focus better when they aren't around classmates.

As Many Parents Fret Over Remote Learning, Some Find Their Kids Are Thriving

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A lot of kids are having trouble learning virtually from home, and parents worry about them falling behind in school during the pandemic. But some kids are thriving. NPR's Eva Tesfaye has the story of one boy who's doing well.

EVA TESFAYE, BYLINE: Eleven-year-old Bobby is so into the Loch Ness Monster he wrote a book about it for a class project.

BOBBY: But that was so hard. It took me five months.

TESFAYE: He's in sixth grade in North Brookfield Elementary School in Massachusetts. He also likes math and Minecraft and online learning.

BOBBY: It's a lot easier for me to focus. I can be in my room and be a lot more comfortable doing stuff in my room.

TESFAYE: I'm not saying the family names of the children in this piece to protect their privacy. Bobby has ADHD and sometimes gets seizures. He often gets up and walks around to get some of his energy out, which he can't do at in-person school. And I could see that happening during our Zoom call. Bobby would walk away from the screen and roll on the floor. While his mother Tashena Holmes and I are talking about his schoolwork, he says something that we can't make out.

BOBBY: (Unintelligible).

TASHENA HOLMES: Can you come here? I can't hear you. Sorry.

TESFAYE: Bobby is listening to our conversation and wants to tell us that a teacher got upset with him when he asked her to repeat an assignment.

BOBBY: I asked Ms. McGary. She got mad.

HOLMES: About what?

BOBBY: About me asking what she said.


BOBBY: But I asked Ms. McGary.

TESFAYE: Bobby's mother says another example of why he doesn't thrive in traditional schooling is that he forgets things.

HOLMES: Whereas, like, with remote school, they usually send videos, and he can rewind it as much as he wants, and all the information's right there so he can reread it.

TESFAYE: Across the country, as more and more teachers are vaccinated, many parents are eager for schools to return to in-person learning, but not parents of kids like Bobby, who do better virtually. By most accounts, it's a small group of kids that includes some with ADHD or autism, who may focus better when they are not around classmates. Andrea Parrish is a researcher at Johns Hopkins School of Education, and she often works with children who have autism and are now doing online learning.

ANDREA PARRISH: The social component is actually sort of taken out in a lot of ways - right? - that there's not that expectation for face-to-face communication. And so a lot of children enjoy it. They prefer it.

TESFAYE: But she also says that for children to thrive online, they need to recognize their own needs. I told her about how Bobby gets up from the computer from time to time.

PARRISH: That's self-regulation, what you just described - being able to get up, walk around, take a break, sit back down and know, like, hey, I need that.

TESFAYE: Some school districts are trying to accommodate students like Bobby. In Iowa, the Sioux City School District expects up to a thousand children to sign up for a permanent online program next fall. Sixteen-year-old Ava will be one of them. She also has ADHD, and before online learning, she was mostly getting F's. But now she has all A's. Her mother Candas Mackie is so proud.

CANDAS MACKIE: She's just flying, soaring above what we had even imagined was possible.

TESFAYE: President Biden has said that his goal is to have a majority of K-8 schools in person by the end of his first hundred days in office. This is good news to the kids who want to go back to school.

BOBBY: We're going to join with video. And she's letting us on. Hi.


TESFAYE: But students like Bobby would do better if they could keep doing classes at home on their computer.

Eva Tesfaye, NPR News.


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