Even though one in five people are neurodivergent, it’s not uncommon for the neurodiverse population to feel left out. As the mother of a son with autism, I’ve spent years feeling frustrated by the lack of educational and social opportunities available to him, and, out of frustration, I decided to homeschool. So, when I learned of Outschool’s neurodiverse programming and their mission to include, educate, and engage neurodiverse kids, I was intrigued.
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Could an online world be the place where a teacher would finally understand my son? And more importantly, could it be the place where he connects with kids just like him? I was eager to find out if Outschool’s neurodiverse programming was too good to be true, so I signed my son up for a few classes, and, in just a few weeks, I had a solid answer to my questions.
What is Outschool?
An incredibly popular name in online learning, Outschool classes have been providing kids ages 3-18 with online learning classes, social clubs, private tutoring, and on-demand videos since 2015. Working to connect, engage, and provoke learning through fun and social interactions, Outschool offers a whopping 140,000+ classes. This means kids are sure to find a class pertaining to the hobbies they love, while parents are sure to find educational content that will help their little learners bloom.
Taught by background-checked teachers utilizing a Zoom-like platform, class and group prices range on average from $8-$13 per session, while private tutoring costs a bit more. Class times run on average from 25-60 minutes per session. Some classes are limited to one session, while ongoing classes meet more regularly. You can learn more about the platform from our broader Outschool review we recently published.
An Outschool review tailored to neurodiverse classes
I was immediately impressed by how easy it was to navigate the Outschool website. It was super quick and easy to set up my account. Selecting the neurodiverse category, I was able to filter class choices by day, time, price point, age group, and even specific neurodiverse categories such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and gifted.
Next, he and I selected three classes he wanted to try, and I was able to schedule them with just a few clicks. When he logged into one for the first time, the teacher exclaimed, “Oh look friends, we have a new student today. Can everyone help me welcome him?” It put a smile on my son’s face, and instantly it felt like we were off to a great start.
Thoughts on our first three classes
Social Skills for Autism Tweens: I found this to be a very well-run class. The same kids attend week after week, so they all seemed to know each other well, but they were very accepting of my son. The teacher did a phenomenal job coaching the kids through a series of conversation topics such as “What is your favorite game?”, while the kids were praised for what they shared and were encouraged to take turns providing positive feedback to their classmates. Much like a therapeutic social skills group one might find at a therapy clinic, this class hit the nail on the head in terms of working to teach social skills while making the process fun.
Let’s Chat About Video Games Social Skills for Autism Tweens: By far my son’s favorite class, the teacher did a wonderful job engaging the kids. Like the first class, students were encouraged to both talk and listen. Kids excitedly shared game tips and secrets, and the teacher did an excellent job interacting with the kids on their level, making everyone feel important. As soon as the class was over, my son wanted me to enroll with him again.
Autism Brick Builders: Surprising us by having the same teacher as the video game group, this class was small with only two kids enrolled. It reminded me a lot of the social skills class, while allowing the brick building to be a comfortable fidget distraction that facilitated easy conversation. The kids took turns deciding what they wanted to build, and, after a set period of time, got to show off their creations. For example, for five minutes they built robots.
What we liked about Outschool’s nuerodiverse program
There’s a lot of good to be said about the neurodiverse learning experience Outschool is building online, but three benefits really stood out among the rest.
Huge class selection with small class sizes
Outschool feels like the Amazon of online education and social connections. It’s hard to find a subject that doesn’t have a class on the Outschool platform. With Pokémon, Lego building, American Girl chat, Cooking Club, book clubs, art clubs, and so much more, Outschool really does have it all.
And within the neurodiverse content specifically, you’ll find engaging therapeutic classes such as Social Group for Teens with Anxiety, ADHD Toolkit Club, Calming Your Inner Sonic the Hedgehog (an ADHD toolkit class), Phonics for Struggling Readers, 1:1 Math Tutoring with a Special Education Teacher, and again, so much more.
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I found the narrow focus of Outschool classes and groups to be hugely beneficial for a neurodivergent child who has difficulty engaging in topics outside of his own interests. And because the class sizes are kept small, every child in class had a good amount of time to participate in the conversation.
Some classes have the same kids attending every week, so the teachers and students can get to know each other on a deeper level. I was especially surprised that even though there are so many classes on the platform, my son had the same teacher for the autism brick builder’s class that he had for the video game social skills group. And when the teacher remembered my son and pointed it out, my son felt amazing.
Empowering neurodivergent children
Feeling “different” from other kids can be difficult, and it’s something my son has struggled with. With Outschool, neurodiverse kids can be superstars who are celebrated for everything they have to offer. The platform allows children to show off what they know and enjoy the reaction of their peers.
Seeing other kids enjoy the same things helps to build the understanding that they really aren’t that different after all. In the video game group, my son felt really proud of the reaction his peers gave him when he shared a Roblox tip, and he enjoyed chatting with kids about one of his favorite hobbies.
I found the Outschool teachers to be well-versed in catering to the needs of special needs children, especially in the Social Skills for Autism Tweens class. Never shaming kids who monopolized the conversation, they thoughtfully redirected them while being sure to include any quieter children who seemed a bit shy. By the end of each session all the kids were chatting, and it was easy to see they felt heard and important; a scenario that hasn’t always played out in a typical classroom or social setting.
Caters to equitable accessible inclusion
There are many barriers that prevent neurodiverse kids from being included, such as a lack of specialized activities, the costs of specialized services, and a need for qualified teachers. Such blockers can create situations where being “different” feel less than ideal because help is more difficult to attain. Outschool works to change that by breaking down those barriers, starting with having their “neurodiverse” class tab displayed front and center next to their “popular” class tab.
Right from the start Outschool makes everyone equal and important. From there, access to specialized tutoring, therapeutic social groups, and friendships are just a few clicks away. No matter what services are lacking in your geographical area, accessibility is forefront at Outschool. Such prominent placement is downright fabulous.
What we didn’t like about Outschool’s nuerodiverse program
Although there isn’t much I didn’t like about Outschool, there are a few important factors parents should consider when using the platform.
Parental supervision required
Outschool does a great job trying to protect the privacy of its users, going so far as to include safety reminders in official emails, reminders before classes and on its website, and even via a safety video tutorial for kids. However, keeping kids safe online extends past the platform and into the hands of their attentive parents.
I became aware of this when my son began to tell his classmates about the town in which we live, and he needed a reminder that we do not share that information online. This detail was especially concerning to me, because Outschool does record classes and users can request the recordings.
There’s no completely safe place to let your children loose on the interwebs, and Outschool is not a substitution for babysitting, so if you aren’t in a position to be attentive when your child is online, then Outschool might not be the safest solution for your child right now.
Friends are online only
Kids need friends, and, although Outschool is a great avenue for social connections, it can be difficult when those connections end when class does. My son enjoyed getting to know his classmates but was sad when the teacher announced group was over. Unlike an in-person class where I could grab the parent’s phone number and arrange a park playdate later, I was reminded that, although Outschool is fun, it’s not a substitute for in-person connections.
Would I recommend Outschool for neurodiverse kids?
Outschool has built something unique, and I can’t deny that my son found solace on this platform amongst his people. As with anything children are involved in, parental supervision is absolutely necessary. But, other than that requirement, I cannot recommend Outschool enough.
Its class offerings, specialized tutoring, and the opportunities to connect with people who understand, accept, and enjoy the same things are priceless. At the end of the day all kids deserve to be taught and included.
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.