WATCH — How this autistic teen stays focused while learning online

Story by CBC Kids News • Published 2020-10-15 14:59

High school student staying home to protect family from coronavirus

Clara Kirby-McIntosh relies on her routines to help her meet her goals.

Now, because of COVID-19, the 18-year-old is doing her final year of high school online at home in Mississauga, Ontario.

Because she’s autistic, she’s had to find new ways to keep up her routine or she’ll fall behind.

“I can already tell [this] is going to be a major struggle for me this year.”    - Clara Kirby-McIntosh

Clara’s mom and dad both have diabetes.

Their immune systems are compromised, which makes them at risk of a more serious illness if they get COVID-19.

“It’s not a risk I could take,” she said about the idea of doing school in-person.

But changing to at-home learning has made it harder to keep up some of those routines that matter to her.

Watch Clara’s video on what it’s like to learn from home during COVID-19:

Laying out a plan for the day

To stay on track, Clara recently discovered that Picture Exchange Communication (PEC) cards help her plan her day.

They’re a tool some kids on the autism spectrum use to help communicate and organize their needs and feelings.

A schedule with items like, makeup, skin care, study, law class, lunch

Clara’s PEC cards have velcro on the back so she can move them around, depending on what her routine needs to be on any given day. (Image submitted by Clara Kirby-McIntosh)

But there are other challenges that have been harder to overcome.

For Clara, it’s hard to learn new ideas quickly and she needs time to let thoughts sink in.

But because of COVID-19, many high school schedules have changed to be more fast-paced.

Clara started the term taking two classes each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

After a few days, she decided to drop one due to the workload.

“I can already tell that is going to be a major struggle for me this year,” she said.

Making friends online

Clara misses having lunch with her friends and seeing them in school.

But she has made new study groups with her online classmates.

Her parents have also said it will still be safe for her to see some of her friends if they wear masks and stay physically distant.

A teen sitting at a desk with a computer

Clara’s desk is in her bedroom, right beside her bed. (Image submitted by Clara Kirby-McIntosh)

Class of COVID-19

It’s not how Clara expected her last year of high school to go.

“It sucks not being able to have my senior year like I normally would,” she said.

“But things are different. And there’s not really anything we can do about it.”

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