When Phil Leonard MS, Assistant Director of NECC’s Adapted Physical Education, Occupational Therapy, and Physical Therapy department (APE, OT, PT), describes his department’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, there is a hint of pride in his voice. The last few months, filled with uncertainty because of remote learning, have been understandably challenging, but the department’s work in the face of this crisis is something that Phil, and everybody at NECC, should be proud of. By leaning on their collective expertise and experience, combined with utilizing different technology, they have continued to help their students progress towards objectives.

Much of the department’s initial work in coping with remote learning centered on providing resources to students in both the residential and the day school programs. These resources included links to pre-existing content, as well as the creation of a dedicated Youtube channel for videos created by department staff. This channel, that is now home to over 60 videos, has been instrumental in providing students with access to different aspects of APE, OT, and PT.

“It is not a perfect solution,” says Leonard, “but the Youtube channel has been important in letting students, teachers, and parents have the ability to participate in our programming, while being at home.”

In addition to prerecorded lessons, the department has also focused on providing live Zoom lessons to students in the day program. Each department member does one live session per week, focusing on their area of expertise. These lessons, along with the recorded resources for both day and residential students, follow a structured learning schedule formulated by education coordinators. Thus far, the department is encouraged by the level of participation resulting from the extensive resources provided and the structured learning schedule. Says Leonard, “Students are engaging, maybe not to the level of an in-person session, but they are moving, exercising, and participating. That, in and of itself, is very positive.”

Recognizing positives has been key for the department in dealing with remote learning. Leonard acknowledges that there is no true replacement for in-person classes, as technological issues and equipment limitations can be especially challenging, and so striving to reach previously-set goals is extremely difficult. However, he also emphasizes that, despite the difficulties in observing and recording student performance, there have been many successes for students. Setting realistic goals, consistent with the limitations of remote learning, has now shifted to being a point of emphasis. The department remains singularly focused on providing the best education possible, but they, like all of us, have been forced to adapt. Even with these adaptations though, students will continue to benefit.

“It’s unfortunate, but with the pandemic, we know the students aren’t moving outside of their homes as often, and this can impact their physical and emotional health, so our goal is to get them active and get them to exercise,” says Leonard. “By creating the best possible programs for our students, their health and fitness can continue to improve. The expertise and experience within our department is part of what allows us to create high-quality programming.”

While the high-degree of experience and expertise has been extremely important to helping the APE, OT, PT department continue to work effectively with their students throughout the last several months, they have also benefitted from the support of NECC as a whole. Says Kristen Sidman MEd, MS, OTR/L, Director of the APE, OT, PT department, “We are extremely lucky that NECC is so deeply committed to providing our students with the highest form and best access to education,  Whether it be in sending us technology to help make recording lessons easier or providing insightful feedback, we have felt so supported by everyone here.”

The support network at NECC will continue to be crucial in the coming weeks as the school moves forward with its reopening plan. For the APE, OT, PT department, the next steps will be a combination of continuing to provide remote learning resources for day school students, as well as beginning social-distanced, in-person classes at residential facilities. Although there will continue to be challenges, as the coronavirus pandemic persists, Leonard, and all of NECC, remains positive.

“It has been challenging, but we are really proud of the work we have done and of our students. They are so inspiring and seeing them work hard and smile throughout this entire situation has helped keep us going.”

About The New England Center for Children

The New England Center for Children® (NECC®) is an award-winning autism education center and research institute. Our community of teachers, researchers, and clinicians have transformed the lives of thousands of children with autism worldwide through education, research, and technology. The Center provides comprehensive services to maximize independence: home-based, day, and residential programs, partner classrooms in public school systems, consulting services, the ACE® ABA Software System (www.acenecc.org), teacher professional development, and research on educational best practices.

NECC is committed to staff professional development, partnering with local colleges to provide on-site graduate training and degrees at little to no cost to the NECC teacher. The result is a growing pool of exceptional teachers trained in best-in-class methodologies, whether they continue their careers at NECC or move on to public schools or private agencies. The New England Center for Children is based in Southborough, MA, and operates a center in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Learn more at www.necc.org.