Studying remotely in times of social distancing

The article provides practical assistance with studying during and after the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown. It covers mental health and well-being considerations as well as guidance in navigating university systems, services and people you can liaise with. We also offer guidance on prioritising your work, taking into account a healthy work-life balance.


Sudden large-scale unprecedented change is challenging for students and universities. In our experience, autistic students work best in environments which are predictable, and the same applies to most people.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw predictability into disarray. In response, the following guidance was created by a group of practitioners who have a great deal of experience of working with autistic students . This guidance is informed by research which involved autistic students.

This article summarises the key point, the full guidance document is available here.

How could this affect me?

We understand that student responses to the pandemic will be individual, and not all the advice and guidance in this document will apply to everyone.  Some students may be finding working remotely beneficial, and easier to engage with, which is positive and worth celebrating.  However, we are aware that some students are finding learning remotely challenging, and the guidance given here is designed to help with the effective management of study related challenges.

As an autistic student you might find it helpful to follow this guidance. However, you do not have to be autistic to find this guidance beneficial.

Its aim is to give you a form of road map which you could use to make sense of services available to you while the university is not operating in the way it used to. The information provided should help to diminish the stress and anxiety often associated with confusing and challenging situations.

And keep in mind that this is a temporary situation which affects everyone. It will not last forever. Whatever works for you is OK.

What to do next?

Read the full guidance document and use it as a foundation for creating your own personal action plan. Remember that your well-being is as important as your course!

Practical tips

  • Identify a named person at the university who can help you to navigate the various services which you will need to access.
  • Consider what areas you need help with, i.e. prioritising work, managing feelings of stress or anxiety, remaining productive etc. Make a list of things you are finding challenging so you can discuss these with people from your university.
  • Create a timetable or routine for working from home. This might be something you can discuss with people from your university. You may also want to consider other places you may be able to work e.g. a park, a cafe, etc.
  • If you feel stressed or anxious, read our advice on how best to reduce these feelings
  • You may need to lower your expectations on productivity during this time. Speak to someone from your university on how much you can realistically achieve whilst maintaining physical and mental well-being. If you are struggling with productivity, it may be worth talking to mentors, study skills tutors or disability support about this. They can discuss your progress and help you decide on the best course of action.
  • Think about other skills you may have obtained during this time e.g. coping strategies as these may be useful after lockdown.
  • Look out for information from your university about how your course and teaching pattern is being re-organised. Find out what you need to do. There are people thinking about this and they want to make it work for you and other students.

Questions to think about

  • How can I find out who would be the best point of contact to help me to navigate the services the university has set up during the pandemic?
    • How can I contact this person?
    • How can this person help me?
    • How can this person help me to create a realistic list of priorities in order to manage my studies during the pandemic?
    • How can this person help me to re-adjust to university life after the pandemic?
  • How can I ensure a healthy work-life balance when working from home?
  • How can I relieve any stress and anxieties I may be feeling during this time?
  • How can I remain productive when working from home?

Additional information and links

Be sure to read the whole of the attached paper (PDF format) which considers all aspects of the student journey:

DOWNLOAD: Studying remotely – advice for autistic students (external link)
by Nicki Martin, Southbank University, and Harriet Cannon, University of Leeds

About the author

Harriet Cannon and Nicola Martin are experienced higher education disability practitioners. In the Spring of 2020, they co-ordinated the development of this guidance alongside others who have worked for many years with autistic and disabled students in higher education.