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The surprising benefits of online learning for my not-so-typical child


My daughter is 10 years old. In some ways, she’s a typical fifth grader. She’s obsessed with her friends and sleepovers. She loves clothes shopping. She spends too much time on YouTube. And she can’t wait to be a teenager. But in other ways, my daughter is not so typical. For example, she loves to dance. And I mean loves. As in hours and hours a day. She’s also a night owl — to the extreme. She just can’t fall asleep at night. And then, getting her out of bed at 7 in the morning on a school day is a nightmare. And she has trouble with focus. Even her good friends have never understood why she breaks into dance for no reason in the middle of the day. They think it’s “weird.” And when she’s exhausted at school, they tell her to “just go to sleep earlier” (as if it were that simple). Some of her teachers have really appreciated her uniqueness. Others have not. The kind ones just nicely remind her that it’s not acceptable for her to stand up from her desk and dance when the urge strikes her. Others are not so kind. So now it’s 2020. It’s a year that will be defined by the coronavirus. And all of our lives have been thrown for a loop. All of a sudden, there are no school schedules. There’s no classroom, just online learning modules and assignments. In short, there’s no “typical” anymore. Which I suppose means there’s no atypical either. What does all this mean for my daughter? She can sleep as late as she wants. She can dance to her heart’s content while she’s watching math training videos. She can take breaks from schoolwork whenever she’s having difficulty focusing. She can do her schoolwork standing on her head. (And yes, she did that once this week!) This doesn’t mean life has been easy lately. Learning how to learn without a teacher in the room has been challenging for all of us. I’ve been watching math modules more than I care to. And there are new responsibilities for parents like me that only add to the stress and anxiety that we’re all feeling right now. But in some ways, this has been a freeing experience for my daughter. In a world that’s built for the typical child, it’s not easy to be different. That’s why Understood is working to shape the world for difference. So that life for kids like my daughter will be a little easier.

And there’s no time like now for us to rebuild for difference. Schools are shut down, and education may be completely redefined in the coming months. Same with workplaces. As each one — and the world at large — starts to think about how to reopen, we have a unique opportunity to make sure that things are done in a more inclusive way than ever before.

Let’s hope that we can all take what we’ve learned from this experience to truly shape the world for difference, and make the world a better place for all types of learners.

Learn more about Understood and how we’re working to shape the world for difference. And stay on top of this ever-changing landscape through our latest updates and tips on Coronavirus and how it relates to school, work, and life for the 1 in 5 who learn and think differently.

Karin Bilich, vice president of editorial content at Understood, leads a team of writers, editors, and experts who focus on people who learn and think differently at home, at school, at work, and in life.

Originally published at on April 10, 2020.

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