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Supporting Your Child with Virtual Learning

by Ellen Fitzpatrick, M.Ed. Programs and Operations Coordinator, Flutie Foundation

I was so honored and excited to present and discuss the following presentation with some brilliant autism moms and the Autism Alliance of Metrowest this week! As a former teacher, one of my passions is working directly with families affected by autism, so this was a really fun opportunity for me!

In my conversations with special educators, therapists, and parents, a common theme always comes up. Teachers and therapists shared feedback such as, “I wish parents could feel comfortable prompting their children during virtual sessions,” “I want parents to know that I don’t expect their child to sit calmly during my virtual lessons and that it’s okay if they run away for a minute. I don’t want them to feel stressed out,” and “I want to make virtual learning work for the students AND the families.”

With feedback from parents themselves, I heard “It’s so hard to manage their behaviors and get them to attend,” “I don’t know how to best help them during virtual learning.”

This inspired the presentation and blog post, because at the Flutie Foundation, we are constantly looking for ways to support families affected by autism in any way we can. My goal here is to help empower families to be involved and to speak up to teachers to ask for information, collaboration, or support! Dive in and try to help prompt your child (as needed/recommended), don’t sweat the small stuff like your child running away from the screen, and communicate with professionals when you want help. 

Special education is built on TEAMS, so this is my reminder to access support and information from those team members! If you look through, I recommend choosing one thing that you think you can accomplish this week or this month. Set yourself up for success, and feel good about the steps you’re taking! Click the image below to view the PowerPoint!

Adding Structure with Activity Schedules

by Ellen Fitzpatrick, M.Ed. Programs and Operations Coordinator, Flutie Foundation

As school and program closures persist, so do you! I have been thinking of ways to offer support to families affected by autism, and decided to share some information and resources on an effective learning tool: Activity schedules!

Not only are there several benefits of using independent activity schedules for individuals with autism, they can be a huge asset to their families as well! The focus here is typically on independence and leisure skills (with so many others that can be included too!) They enable families to add structure to the unstructured leisure time at home while promoting self-confidence, executive functioning, and independence. 

There is a lot to learn about picture activity schedules, so if you are interested in learning more, check out some of the resources below! As always, collaborate with your child’s teachers and therapists if you need ideas.

Additional Activity Schedule Resources

McClannahan, L. E., & Krantz, P. J. (1999). Topics in autism. Activity schedules for children with autism: Teaching independent behavior. Woodbine House.

Click here for an Activity Schedule blank template: 

Click here for an example of a child doing an activity schedule (at school):

Click here for a detailed description of Picture Activity Schedules with supported research:

A Sibling’s Love and Acceptance

by Ellen Fitzpatrick, M.Ed. Programs and Operations Coordinator, Flutie Foundation

Hi everyone! I don’t want to ignore the elephant in the room—it’s autism awareness and acceptance month! Covid-19 will come and go, but autism isn’t going anywhere and I believe it’s important to pause and reflect on what this means to us. To me, people with disabilities are typically the most courageous, hardworking, determined humans on the planet. As much as we have made significant progress in this field, society isn’t equipped for people with autism and other disabilities. They literally must go above and beyond to access and achieve the same goals as neurotypical or non disabled peers. This is not something to pity; it is impressive.

Let’s be honest—being different is definitely cool, but no one likes to be stared at or left out of activities. Not only does this matter to the individual with autism, but it also affects the people around them who love them and want their sibling or child to be happy and appreciated for who they are.

As a former special educator, I think of all the siblings and parents who I have had the privilege of working with alongside their brother, sister, son, or daughter. These families are the ones responsible for motivating and inspiring me to continue to work in this field, and to spread the message of inclusion and kindness as much as I can. Early in my career, I hit the jackpot with an amazing family who epitomized love, acceptance, and inclusion. This changed me forever.

Maria is the triplet sister to her two siblings that were both diagnosed with autism. While she is neurotypical, she always expressed an interest in finding ways to interact with (and truthfully, teach) her siblings. I have this vivid memory of her teaching her brother songs on the piano using color coded stickers and music for him. Just because she could go to piano lessons, didn’t mean her siblings couldn’t have the same opportunity. This was age 7. Maria exudes kindness, unflagging in her efforts to make her siblings feel included and respected while pursuing her dreams of applying to college this year. In the spirit of autism acceptance, I want to share these thoughts and wisdom that Maria has so graciously provided me with. 

My name is Maria La Terza and I am 17 years old. I am a triplet from Boston, Massachusetts and I have a sister and brother who were both diagnosed early with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We were born prematurely (three months early, actually!) and I feel so blessed that we overcame the health challenges that we faced at an early age.

One of my siblings’ most admirable traits is their authenticity. In a world where many people are not as they seem, my brother and sister are as real as one can get. They are unabashedly themselves and do not know how to be anything else. Being raised in the age of social media, many project an artificial image of themselves that aims to meet perceived societal expectations. My siblings do not feel that pressure. I envy the fact that they do not allow themselves to be defined by others’ opinions. They are truly the most honest, trustworthy, and genuine people I have ever known.

There are SO many things that I wish people (not just people my age – everyone!) knew about individuals with autism. Here are three that I believe are most important:

  1. People first. Autistic second. In other words, most of the time they want to be included. They want friends. They just don’t always respond the way we expect them to, but that certainly doesn’t mean that they don’t want it. Their autism is part of them, but it doesn’t define them. True inclusion isn’t just having them around – it is helping them (if need be) to meaningfully participate in such a way that is beneficial to EVERYONE! It is giving them a high five to celebrate a success, no matter how small it may seem to you. It is sitting with them at lunch and bringing them into your conversation. They are not your community service project. They are not people you can take advantage of because you think they “just don’t understand”. People with autism deserve genuine inclusion. 
  1. The saying goes, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” People with autism share commonalities, but they are not the same. Their likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses are all unique to them, therefore generalizations are unfair. For example, some say that autistic people are incapable of empathy.  I can tell you that my brother does not lack empathy. In fact, he seems to have a lot of empathy, particularly for me and my sister. If we are hurt or upset, he acts out because he doesn’t know how to cope with or even express the degree of empathy that he has for us. 
  1. Although they may require additional resources to reach their full potential, we as a society should recognize the inherent value of every human life and the contributions that people like my siblings have the potential to make if they are given the appropriate support. People with autism may learn and process information differently from their neurotypical peers, however I wish more people would understand how capable they really are. 

To be honest, I do not know who I would be today without the experiences I have had and all of the valuable lessons I have learned from my siblings. They have taught me patience, empathy, strength, sincerity… the list goes on. I could not be more proud of their progress academically and socially – there is still a lot for them to learn, but their focus, determination, and stamina will get them anywhere they want to be.

To all families affected by autism, we at the Flutie Foundation, see how you celebrate these differences every day. We admire and appreciate the time, energy, patience, and love you give to your children and siblings. We strive to support organizations and individuals who provide critical, fun, and exciting opportunities for people on the autism spectrum, so that EVERYONE can live life to the fullest. Thank you for helping to create a community where everyone feels welcome and included. The world needs more Maria’s and people like you. 

The Special Educator’s Perspective

by Ellen Fitzpatrick, M.Ed. Programs and Operations Coordinator, Flutie Foundation<

Hello! I’ve spent the past week talking to a lot of people. Family, friends, colleagues, teachers, former students, nonprofit organizations, and service providers. The one common theme I have noticed is that everyone–no matter their circumstance, job, or age—is just trying to do the best they can, wherever that may be.

I’m acutely aware of the stress and anxiety that parents are feeling with their children at home and not in their schools and routine programs. At the Flutie Foundation, we strive to build a community of like-minded individuals and organizations who want to work together to help the greater good. We are striving to stay connected with our partners and friends, in an effort to support this community in any ways that we can.

With schools closed for another month at least, I wanted to highlight the common ground in which we stand with our teachers and families. Instead of offering my opinion, I reached out to an old colleague who is still teaching in the public school system. Check out what she has to say in this Q and A!

Krista has been teaching for over 8 years in various settings including separate day schools, as an ABA therapist, and public school teacher. She has her Masters Degree in Special Education (PK-8), and has been in her current position in a Massachusetts Public School system for the past 4 years.

Q:  How are you doing and how is the quarantine impacting your family’s everyday life right now?

A: Hi! For the most part, I am doing well. I certainly have challenging days but try to remain positive and thankful for what I have. My husband is considered an essential employee, so his work schedule has not changed since the quarantine, which he is thankful for. He goes to work each day and is careful to keep a safe distance from other employees and clients. I have been at home trying to come up with projects to do around the house, working remotely, taking lots of walks and facetiming with my family and friends.

Q: What instructions have you been given in terms of supporting students with IEPs during this time?

A: Our professional responsibilities have shifted within the last week or so and now the expectation is for us to begin a rollout of distance learning across the district. For the first few weeks of the school closure, we provided enrichment activities to the families and provided a Chrome Book or iPad to each family that requested one. As preschool teachers and related service providers (speech, OT, PT, Social Worker), we took videos of ourselves reading stories, completing lessons of previously learned concepts and dancing to some of our favorite classroom songs. We reached out to parents to check-in and offered support and resources. In the coming weeks, we, as a district, are shifting to a more direct approach to teaching goals and objectives of each student’s IEP. This will look very different across grade levels and special education. The manner in which I reach my preschool students (that are in the substantially-separate classroom) may look different in comparison to how an 8th-grade teacher reaches her students. At this time I am not sure if having direct Google Meets with each student where I run their discrete-trial programs through the computer screen will be successful. Students that require intensive teacher support throughout their school day should be provided with the same level of support if they are expected to make progress. This is what I have observed to be the hardest part of distance learning. Without being physically with my students, I do not feel as though I am supporting them in the way they need and deserve. I imagine the next few weeks will be somewhat of a trial and error period; I may need to stretch my creativity and try new things that could be successful for my students. It will be vital to keep lines of communication open with the parents to see how the distance learning is going from their perspective. I want to be mindful that every family is under an enormous amount of stress during this time, some families may have lost their jobs, some may be expecting to work full time at home while assisting their children, some may be faced with challenging behavior that they could be struggling to manage daily, and some may be working outside the home (i.e. in healthcare) and have not been able to maintain a family unit at home.

 Q: Have you found this to be going well? What are some of the positives and negatives you’ve come across so far?

A:   For the past few weeks, I have reached out to my families through email about 4-5 times per week. As mentioned, we have sent videos and checked-in to see how they are doing and what more we can do to help. Some positives have been that a few families have responded back with photos or videos of their child that have made me SO happy! I have mentioned in my videos that I would love to see what each of them are doing and it has been amazing to see them! One thing that has been a negative from my perspective is that I wish I were able to communicate more with some of my student’s families. There are some that I have only briefly heard back from one time and I want to support them. If I am not sure which aspects of this time are most challenging for them, I am not sure how to better help them. I will continue to reach out and offer support in hopes that they will connect with me if needed.  I also know that due to the age of my students, all communication must go through parents and with families that are working or have multiple children, it can be an added challenge to manage all of that communication.

Q: What is your biggest concern right now?

A:  My two biggest concerns right now are that my students may not understand why this massive shift in their routine has taken place and that could be causing them to be upset and that my students deserve to have all of their services and supports that they receive at school daily, but it is challenging for me to find ways to reach them in the same manner.

Q. Have you found any helpful tools or effective strategies to families to use during this time at home?

A: We, as a preschool team along with the whole district provided enrichment activities for families that included activities they could complete at home along with online resources that may be helpful during this time. I have encouraged families to maintain a routine during part of the day, while stressing that not every minute of the day needs to be scheduled. If students have a schedule (preferably a visual schedule!) and know what to expect each day it will likely make it easier for everyone. I have expressed to families that it can be helpful to balance scheduled time with free time and that may look different for each family. I have also reminded parents that no matter what they are doing, they are doing a great job!

Q: A common concern I have heard is that kids can’t practice their social skills without access to peers and recreational opportunities. How can kids work on their social skills when they’re at home?

A: This is a huge concern of mine as social and emotional skills are at the forefront of our schools mission. We spend all day working on appropriate skills that manage emotions and connect with peers so removing such an important aspect of that experience can really be challenging for our students. In my opinion, it is important that parents continue to target these skills as it fits with their family. We spend a lot of time in preschool practicing social skills first between student and teacher then generalizing that skill to peers. If students have siblings at home these skills can continue to be practiced between children. If students are able to, engaging in pretend play can be a fantastic way to model appropriate social skills and social language.

Q: If parents could commit to doing one thing with their child at home right now, what would you suggest?

A:   During this challenging time I think the most important things are to connect with your child, engage in fun and preferred activities with them, provide structured activities when you can and reach out to those who are here to support you.

Thank you Krista, and all teachers who are working tirelessly to find a way to make distance learning work. Not only is this a learning curve for both educators and families, but it is an opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other. Although this situation is less than ideal, it is inspiring to see the empathy and concern individuals are expressing for one another. I choose to hold onto that and remember that all we can do is to try our best.


Moving Forward Together

by Ellen Fitzpatrick, M.Ed. Programs and Operations Coordinator, Flutie Foundation

Hi everyone! I hope you and your families are staying healthy as you search for ways to adjust to this new “lifestyle.” This past week has been overwhelming to say the least, and I think it’s beginning to sink in for all of us that this just might be the beginning of a long ride. Hopefully, things will go back to “normal” sooner than later, but I think this is a good time to get prepared and hope for the best. 

Hopefully by now, you have touched base with a teacher or professional that works with your child or loved one with autism. You deserve to have support and individualized resources available to help them learn and grow. This will absolutely look different at home than it would at school; that is perfectly appropriate and expected! Some quick ideas:

  • Take “nature walks” (yes, that could mean walking around your neighborhood and picking up rocks or sticks). 
  • Make your own “sensory bins” with objects at home or in your kitchen. Give them different containers to pour with or switch up the things you put in. 
  • Watch a video or movie together and use it as a conversation starter (a great opportunity for language development).

When you can, just try your best to integrate the skills they are working on in whatever you are doing. Who knows, maybe this will work and they will generalize skills in a new setting! Either way, this is a concrete action step you can take to support their learning, and go to bed at night knowing you did the best you could. 

Now, in an effort to heed my own advice from my last blog post, I decided not to reinvent the wheel. Instead, I want to take this opportunity to shine a light on some of the amazing support centers we work with throughout Massachusetts who are ready to answer your call and help you on any day–not just during a pandemic. 

These support centers offer a variety of services and resources to help families affected by autism, and we are so proud to stand alongside them as they tirelessly work to adapt to these new circumstances.

They are:

  • Working diligently to develop additional programs and support groups that can be accessed online, in an effort to replace in-person services that they typically offer.
  • Creating helpful tools for you to use at home, such as social stories, visual aids, and really anything you may need over the coming weeks.
  • Sharing resources as they become available.

I am simply here to remind you that you have a LOT of people in your corner who are ready and willing to help, and in this time of social distancing, it’s important to remember you are not alone.

Check out these amazing organizations, and I highly encourage you to follow them on social media (they are updating their Facebook pages pretty regularly with helpful information) and/or join their mailing lists! Click on their logos to go directly to their websites! If they don’t have something that benefits you today, they may have something tomorrow!


Location: Watertown, MA 

Click here to follow them on Facebook! 

What are they doing?

  • Providing online group chats with our Child & Teen staff Wednesday evening for parents of children and Thursday evening for parents of teens.
  • Offering Online Bad Movie Watch Party and chat one week and Online Games the next for adults on the spectrum as a fun alternative to their popular Pizza & Game nights that are normally offered in many locations around Massachusetts.



Location: Westwood, MA

Click here to follow them on Facebook! 

 Resources they are sharing:



Location: Framingham, MA

Click here to follow them on Facebook!

 What are they doing?

  • Sign up for their mailing list on their website! They share practical resources and ideas, and send a monthly Newsletter including sensory friendly events
  • Autism Alliance has started sending daily e-mails with activities and other helpful resources that can help you get through this pandemic, one day at a time!
  • They have been busy building an autism welcoming community, and are committed to helping families tackle their everyday challenges. 



Location: Worcester, MA

Click here to follow them on Facebook!

 What are they doing?

  • The AIRC is constantly updating information as it becomes available in regards to modifications of insurance coverage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They offer free webinars, fact sheets and links to access the latest information as it relates to individuals with autism and related services. Currently, the AIRC is gathering information on telehealth ABA services, and helping providers and families navigate this.
  • They offer ongoing training and can help you to access resources for your child through your insurance provider, including ABA therapy and other covered services.


Location: Randolph, MA

Click here to follow them on Facebook!

 What are they doing?

  • Autism Sprinter works to improve community outreach, advocacy, resources, and support for individuals with autism.
  • Check out their website for upcoming Facebook Live events!



Location: Boston, MA and Quincy, MA 

Click here to follow them on Facebook!

What are they doing?

  • BCNC is working on creating content for WeChat posts (Chinese social media platform). They will include the following topics:
    • How to talk to children about Covid-19
    • Activities for children at home, include parenting tips
    • For families with children with autism, music-therapy related activities for children to do at home, and how parents can help children enhance social skills in the home environment during this isolating time 
    • They have also shared on WeChat pick up locations where children can continue to get free breakfast and lunch in Boston, Malden and Quincy.
  • The post is in Chinese: 



Location: Boston, MA

Click here to follow them on Facebook! 

 What are they doing?

  • Bryce’s Journey, Inc. offers social skills groups and provides support, guidance, informational resources, support groups and parent workshops to the parents of children with Autism and ADHD.



Location: Swansea, MA and Bridgewater, MA

Click here to follow them on Facebook! 

What are they doing?


(The Circle of Vietnamese Parents) 

Location: Dorchester, MA

Click here to follow them on Facebook! 

What are they doing?

  • The Circle of Vietnamese parents is a group of Vietnamese speaking parents of children with special needs getting together to support one another, to network, to share experience caring for children with special needs, and to share resources.
  • Check out their Facebook page for more resources, or to contact them!



Location: Danvers, MA 

Click here to follow them on Facebook! 

What are they doing?


The First 8 Steps for Tackling This Quarantine for Families Affected by Autism

by Ellen Fitzpatrick, M.Ed. Programs and Operations Coordinator, Flutie Foundation

This is an extremely stressful time, particularly for families affected by autism at home. At the Flutie Foundation, WE SEE YOU and understand the struggle. This is probably super frustrating because you are trying to maintain your own job/responsibilities, AND feel the pressure to educate/support your child on the spectrum—so give yourself some grace, allow for mistakes, and remember to make time for yourself when you can. 

No one expects you to be your child’s teacher; your emotional relationship and connection with your child may prevent you from having the same type of “instructional control” that a teacher or therapist may have. You know your child best, and will continue to find ways to adapt to this new reality. These are just some things you can aim for along the way.

1.) Keep everyone in the loop.

Keep an eye out for communications from schools. Touch base with your child’s special educator, BCBA/LABA, speech therapist, OT, PT, ABA therapist, etc. regarding activities to do at home that are aligned with your child’s IEP or adult transition goals. You are entitled to this with your child’s IEP and teachers/service providers should be able to answer specific questions and offer strategies for individuals. 

2.) Plan it out. 

Implement a schedule for the day, write it down/use visuals and work through it together. This can be on a piece of paper, a whiteboard, pictures and velcro, on an app, etc. No matter what your situation or circumstance, find a way to add STRUCTURE to the day! Even better–make this a ROUTINE, and stick with a similar schedule each day. This will not only help your child to know what to expect and reduce challenging behaviors, but it will also help you, as the parent, have some boundaries and sanity. 

Some app suggestions: 

Stripes (Checklist and List manager) (free):

Choiceworks ($9.99):

Visual Schedules Lite (free):

3.) Do what they love, and they’ll love what they do. 

Remember what motivates your child, and build that into their daily schedule. 

Is it art? Paint, color, get creative! Download the Pinterest app for clever ideas of DIY projects that you can do with recyclables or common household items just to keep things fresh and fun.

Is it the iPad? Put it on the daily schedule multiple times, and place it strategically (i.e. when you have to cook dinner or do some of your own work.) Download different (free) apps each day and switch them out, so they remain “novel.” 

Is it stimming? Encourage them to go to a designated place if they need to engage in repetitive behaviors throughout the day. You will fight a losing battle if you expect the self-stimulatory behavior to stop, but it is important to establish a boundary for you and for them. This can be a huge challenge for some kiddos with autism and their families, and it is important to redirect this stimming behavior as appropriate throughout the day, just as a teacher or therapist would do while they are at school or at their typical day program. Put it in the schedule, or better yet, talk to your child’s teacher/team on ways to address this behavior at home!

4.) Stay active.

Build in time for exercise or movement. Being cooped up at home is tough, but remaining sedentary is only going to make everyone feel worse!

Go outside. Take a walk or go for a hike, whatever is manageable.

Stretch and/or do yoga (this is a great topic for your child’s PT, OT, Mobility Specialist, etc. as they may have individualized plans for your child, or cool resources to try)

Try a fun website to get moving like or 

5.) Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Don’t be too intimidated to become your child’s “teacher” for the time being. There are simple things you can do to help maintain their skills and teach them new ones. It will be super helpful to provide a unique/novel activity each day to ease the boredom and keep them engaged in some type of learning or play! Utilize free apps and websites. Talk to other parents about what they are doing. Communicate with your child’s therapists or teachers about preferred activities they usually do at school. Mix it up and try to have some fun when you can, but whatever you do, don’t bend over backwards to make it happen. 

This blog includes a list of free subscriptions to websites of educational companies, virtual tours (aka field trips from your couch!), and many unique activities to try at home:

This website breaks up activities by age/grade level, and includes some educational video content based on a theme for learning:

This link  is a great resource with social stories, visuals, schedules and first-then boards:

6.) Take it easy. 

Breathe, allow space and breaks. We are all human, disability or not. We all need time to decompress, maybe this means pacing or watching mindless TV; this is a time to be easy on ourselves and others around us. And just because I think it can’t be overstated, go outdoors and get some fresh air.

7.) Consistency matters.

Be as consistent as possible when you are communicating and planning with your child. Follow through when you say something, maintain routines, provide reinforcement for appropriate and expected behaviors. Yes, things are going to change a little. Being flexible is something people with autism tend to struggle with, so allow them time to adjust to this new schedule. If you can be consistent with your expectations, this will reduce anxiety and increase the likelihood of cooperation. 

8.) You’re doing great!

Don’t overthink it. Yes, let’s make accommodations to support these individuals during a time like this. Also remember we are all anxious. We are all watching too much tv and increasing our screen time significantly right now. We are all indulging in extra snacks or eating comfort food. Just because they have autism or a disability, doesn’t mean they aren’t entitled to do these things with us. 

No one is perfect! We know there will be challenges and setbacks– it will be okay. Just do the best you can, ask for help when you need it, and take one day at a time. This is temporary. We can do this!


About the Author

Ellen is a former Special Educator and ABA therapist. Before coming to work for the Flutie Foundation, Ellen worked in a private day school for individuals with autism, as a special educator in public school systems in Massachusetts, and as an ABA therapist/Job coach in the home and community settings. She has her Master’s Degree in Autism Studies and Applied Behavior Analysis.

Ellen is married and is the proud mother of a daughter (almost 2 years old) and 2 adorable, cuddly golden doodles! She created this blog to support the autism community as parents and families navigate the isolation that we’re experiencing with the Coronavirus quarantine. She is committed to the Flutie Foundation’s mission of helping families affected by autism live life to the fullest, so this felt like another tangible way to offer support during this challenging time.




Visual timer apps: These are great for managing transitions!

Visual Countdown timer (free):

Or Visual timer (free):


Schedule apps:

Stripes (Checklist and List manager) (free):

Choiceworks ($9.99):

Visual Schedules Lite (free):


Reinforcement app:

Token Board (free):


Educational apps:

Starfall ABCs (free):

Starfall Free (free):


Social Stories: 

There are so many out there, or you can write your own! Here are a few I found on (a free website where educators share resources-some free and others at a low cost.)

Visual Schedule

Coronavirus Social Story

We Need to Stay Healthy