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?  Even if you’ve had relatively positive experiences in elementary school or middle school, you may hit a point where things get pretty tough.

Math is often a subject where Autistic kids do well and may be closer to approaching grade level.  I know a family where this was the case for them and their Autistic 9th grade son.  But then they 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?  Their 9th grader should at least be working on 7th grade level math.  They talked to their son so he would choose the 7th grade level.  With communication and comprehension challenges, trying to work directly with him was going nowhere.

They talked to their son’s math teacher.  The school was using IXL during classroom time.  They were having their son use it after school each day even though the teacher didn’t assign homework so he could get more math practice in.  They were making sure the grade level was correct at home.  They didn’t get much help from the teacher at school.  Things would be corrected when they 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. This family decided to give 1 on 1 tutoring a try.  If they couldn’t get help from the school, they could at least turn math time at home into high quality time to try and keep progress in this area going.

They looked for tutors in their local area that had experience with kids with special needs.  Locally, there was nothing available.  They contacted Varsity Tutors and found one tutor near them who didn’t have this experience but was at least willing to try.

If they 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.  (They live in Sacramento, CA.) They wanted a session after dinner one night a week.  This was after school for the tutor based on her time zone.  Also perfect.

They decided to try out both online and in person so they wouldn’t waste time seeing which one worked better.  They weren’t sure if online would work for their son.  Would he get distracted?  Could he understand and comprehend across a computer screen?


For the in person sessions, the mother sat at the top of the stairs that lead down into their basement family room so she could listen in on how the session was going.  She knew if she was in the same room she would distract her son.  It was hard to hear the conversation.  When she could, she 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 she knew she wouldn’t get any details from her son, or his teacher, later.

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

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

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

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

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

Not having a lot of options pushed this family to give 1 on 1 tutoring, and online tutoring, a try.  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.