“Summer of Success Part #5: True Stories of Lives Changed by Digital Learning” by Ryan Fox first appeared on the iLearn Project blog.
Can online learning help special needs students succeed? For this week’s “Summer of Success” story, we give the floor to Ryan Fox, a bright, talented autistic student from Sultan, WA. Ryan first shared his story with us in the summer of 2010. He has now completed a very successful freshman year at Central Washington University where he is studying Instrumental Music Performance. Watch his story (and share it!), and read his own words about the life-changing impact of online learning.
I love online learning! It has changed my life. Back in 10th grade I had a bad attitude because school was very frustrating. There were distractions all the time. Classes were really stressful to me because of the chaos. Also, the teachers talked too fast and didn’t use enough visual aids, and they changed topics a lot. I couldn’t take notes fast enough because I can’t take notes and pay attention at the same time. My IEP listed many accommodations. My bad attitude also came from having to start my school day all over at 2:30 when I got home. Each night my mom helped me relearn all the information I didn’t understand (or even hear) all day long. I wanted to learn, but by the time we were done we were both exhausted.
Then came online learning. My mom and dad knew I wanted to study music—which I am pretty good at—so they sent me to a community
college in 11th grade for orchestra, jazz, and theory. The commute was long, and I couldn’t get back to my high school before 2:30 for classes, so we found an online high school for the flexible schedule. By the end of the first month, I was totally hooked! It seemed like a whole world designed just for me. In regular schools they assume that if you are smart enough to get good grades then you must also be able to handle chaos and distractions, listen to very rapid speaking, not mind lots of interpersonal issues, and easily deal with changes to your day. They think smart students are those who don’t need structure. I admire people who can do all that, but I’m smart too, and I need structure.
I am autistic. I like order and correctness, and I always like to know exactly what to do next. I also like to finish one thing before I go on. The online school gives me all of these things. It also helps me feel very organized, calm, and safe. There are no surprises and few changes, so I get done quicker and have more time to practice my music. Now I need almost no accommodations. The classes are all recorded so I can replay them slowly over and over again until I get everything. I also can work in a course as long as I want to because there is no bell to make me stop and move to the next class. I take classes either in the library, at home, or in other quiet places. Nobody is throwing spit wads, goofing around distracting me, or being disrespectful toward the teacher. It’s great! My teachers are very, very friendly, helpful, and smart. My physics teacher even taught one class from up in a tree and another while he was kiteboarding on Bellingham Bay, where he used a live webcam to show us about velocity and friction. He also taught about momentum from the Winter Olympics in Vancouver by showing us ice skaters. I’m in honors chemistry now in 12th grade. I do lots of labs at home with my kit.
One other great thing about online school is that I get to take some classes my local school doesn’t offer, such as video production. In the old days my mom used to help me by making videos of me giving presentations (and then editing out the pauses) because my brain doesn’t let me talk fast enough to make real time speeches. I showed the videos in class and got credit for the speeches, but I always wanted to learn to make those videos myself. Last spring I took an online class in how to make my own videos. This skill not only lets me make school presentations, it also helped me raise money for a European music performance tour I went on. My community loved the videos I made about my trip, before and after. I have also made travel videos for little kids with autism so they won’t be afraid to ride trains.
When I was really little I was curious and loved to learn, but then for a while I got so frustrated I forgot what that was like. I think any student who has certain needs and wants to rediscover his or her love of learning should try online learning. I really believe that in the future everyone will learn this way! We will all be able to learn from the very smartest people on Earth, and we will do it at our own pace every day. Our abilities will matter more than our disabilities.