Math Tutoring to Support an IEP

Do you ever feel like your kids that are on IEPs aren’t getting enough attention or instruction in the classroom?  I had relatively positive experiences when my son was in elementary school and middle school but when we hit high school, things got pretty tough.

Math was a subject that my Autistic son was at least approaching grade level on.  I started seeing notifications from the online math program, IXL, coming home,

Bravo! You have achieved excellence in 40 third-grade skills on IXL!

Third grade?  My 9th grader should at least be working on 7th grade level math.  I talked to my son so he would choose the 7th grade level.  With communication and comprehension challenges, trying to work directly with him was going nowhere.

I talked to my son’s math teacher.  They were using IXL during classroom time.  We were having our son use it after school each day even though the teacher didn’t assign homework so he could get more math practice in.  Our babysitter was making sure the grade level was correct at home.  I didn’t get much help from the teacher.  Things would be corrected when I called attention to it but it would quickly fall back to lower grade level certificates coming in.

There are not many options for private high schools for kids on the Autism spectrum.  And even if there were, the cost is prohibitive. I happen to work at Varsity Tutors so I decided to give private, 1 on 1 tutoring a try.  If I couldn’t get help from the school, I could at least turn math time at home into high quality time to try and keep progress in this area going.

We looked for tutors in our area that had experience with kids with special needs.  Locally, there was nothing available.  The education specialists at Varsity Tutors found one tutor near us who didn’t have this experience but was at least willing to try.

If we were open to tutoring online, there was a tutor who was also a special education middle school math teacher.  Perfect.  She happened to live in Hawaii.  (We live in Seattle, WA.) We wanted a session after dinner one night a week.  This was after school for her based on her time zone.  Also perfect.

I decided to try out both online and in person.  I had just started working at Varsity Tutors so I was now using my son to learn even more about our product. I wasn’t sure if online would work for my son.  Would he get distracted?  Could he understand and comprehend across a computer screen?


For the in person sessions, I sat at the top of the stairs that lead down into our basement family room so I could listen in on how the session was going.  I knew if I was in the same room I would distract my son.  It was hard to hear the conversation.  When I could, I didn’t know the context of the problem they were working on.  It was hard to assess if this was time well spent or not.  And I know I wouldn’t get any details from my son, or his teacher, later.

For the online sessions, I had the option of actually watching the session without my son recognizing that I was in the session.  The tutor knew but I told her ahead of time that I was going to watch just to see if my son was giving her any problems and I would not speak or let my son know I was watching.  I could see the problems they were working on via the online whiteboard.  I could see both of them.  I could see that my son was paying attention.  I could see where my son was having a hard time understanding the tutor’s questions.

After the in person session, I met with the tutor before she left, out of earshot from my son, and asked her if there was anything that she was struggling with in terms of working with my son.  No feedback.  “It was fine.”  Based on what little I could hear, it didn’t sound that smooth but I didn’t want to push.

After the online session, I also met with the tutor after my son logged off the system.  I was able to talk with her face to face just like the in person tutor.  I called out that I noticed where my son wasn’t answering her questions and gave her a suggestion on how she can form her questions to get my son to answer.  I also encouraged her to just wait and let there be silence until he answered.

The following week, we had our next session.  I listened from the top of the stairs, still unable to really understand how it was going.  I watched the online session.  It was going much more smoothly.  This time, I just logged off so I clean up things from dinner because it was going so well.

Over time, I stopped the in person tutoring.  The online tutor was just connecting with my son more effectively.  (Or maybe I felt that way because I simply had so much more visibility into the sessions since I could spot check via sessions recordings.) I also appreciated just logging in right at 7pm, not needing to have my house presentable and not needing to put my barking dog away when the in person tutor arrived.

I’m not sure I would have tried this if I didn’t work for a tutoring company.  But if you’re a parent with a child on the spectrum, this may be an option if you want to supplement what is going on, or NOT going on, in the classroom at school.

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