How to Help Bright Kids with Autism Cope During Challenging Times

Week 1: How to Increase Learning Engagement

In Part One of the 2e Autism series with Dr. Barry Prizant, we discuss how difficult it is for some kids to focus on learning during challenging times.  Compounding the e-learning situation during COVID-19 is short attention spans, family and siblings in tight quarters, and end-of-year spring fever. Dr. Prizant discusses the 4 kinds of breaks that can be helpful, how to motivate kids and do strength-based learning, how to manage academic stress, and how to collaborate with teachers to meet your child's learning needs.


If you want to find an answer in the video to a specific question posed below, simply click on the play button next to each question.


1My son (nearly 7 years old) is understandably of the mindset that school is for school and home is for home. So, getting any actual school-related activities done while in this remote learning situation has been challenging to say the least. How hard do we push, and when do we know if we should back off and let him explore his own self-driven interests and passions over school assignments? He’s been quoting “The Peanuts Movie”: “This is not easy for me! My whole world has turned upside down!”
2I view remote learning as an opportunity to support my son in a way not possible in his classroom, with well-timed breaks, giving him the control of the schedule, and selecting the sequence of tasks. However, as time passed, I found I had to stay in the room with him to keep on task, and did a lot of heavy-lifting to help him complete work properly. Growing concern that I am at risk of crossing into a helicopter mom if this continues next year. How to draw the line for my 3rd grader in Fall?
3My son, despite his high ability to learn, thinks he doesn't need to learn many things because he "knows it all". He's asked to practice math on an app where he can work at his own pace and even work on more advanced topics. He loves math and has advanced mathematical reasoning but instead of enjoying the task, it always ends in a battle. Tasks that are not within his limited interests, he feels is a waste of time. How to teach him responsibility, even when he feels something is not important?
4My son has been having huge difficulties attending school for the last 3 years. We have tried changing schools, and a combination of home school and tutoring. In every situation he still feels overwhelmed and is resistant to showing up (either for in-person learning, tutoring, and now video calls). He does want to learn, but he gets so stressed and anxious he completely shuts down. What might be causing this type of school refusal?
5How can parents learn to distinguish between a bright child on the spectrum who is refusing an assignment but needs to be pushed through his fear or anxiety or resistance and a bright child on the spectrum refusing an assignment who needs a break/an educational support?
6How do you keep a child who has ASD 1 challenged academically within the classroom when they learn so quickly and have exceptional memory?
7My son, age 7 with an ASD diagnosis, is less willing to engage in learning with writing and drawing than with a tablet or computer. His fine motor skills are underdeveloped. How can I help him to engage more in these non-preferred activities?
8Do you know of any alternatives to checklists for kids who don't like checklists? What do you think about chew necklaces? And what exactly is the Social Story?
9For educators, would we start with developing goals around their passions and then hope to eventually be able to move toward goals that are not necessarily on topics of interest or is the goals around their passions sufficient?


Now we'd love to hear from you. What's bubbling up for you after listening to Part 1 of the workshop? Please let us know in the comments section below.


  1. Chidumga on May 31, 2020 at 6:27 am

    Thank you for the 4 levels of breaks for regulation. It has put things in perspective with the understanding of what each break entails and when it can be used.

  2. Bonnie on May 26, 2020 at 3:42 pm

    I learned so many important things. Some of my favorites are letting the child help plan the schedule, helping the child by presenting curriculum that actively engages he/she and understanding the four levels of breaks. Thank you so so much!!!

  3. Beth on May 26, 2020 at 1:58 pm

    How do we support teachers in making planning for passions achievable? We are trying to embrace this in their planning so it can be inclusive. It can quickly become all consuming to personalize to interest for a number of students.

  4. Aubrie Zumini on May 24, 2020 at 10:05 am

    Do we have access to the handout/graphic Dr. Prizant referred to that summarizes the levels of breaks? I would love to have a copy as we worked to implant these levels.

    • Lauren on August 13, 2020 at 12:11 pm

      Hi Aubrie,
      The handout you are talking about is on the Resources page under “The 4 Levels of Breaks.” There is LOTS of good information there!
      -Lauren with the B&Q Team

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