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Transforming Lives: Learners at AU

Tsinda Coombs: How flexibility got learner through pandemic turmoil

By: Tsinda Coombs

Transforming Lives: Learners at AU is a testimonial series written by AU learners and alumni who want to share how AU helped shape their lives.

It’s a space for the people who have provided support and encouragement throughout their journey. It’s also a forum for sharing how AU is helping them achieve their educational goals and realize their future potential. Their stories are worth shouting from the rooftops! Have an inspiring story of your own to share? Email us! We’d love to hear it.

After teaching for 20 years in an elementary school classroom, I knew it was time for a new challenge.   

Raising a son with autism and intellectual disabilities steered me toward special education. After securing a one-year educational leave from my employer the year my son transitioned from elementary to high school, I needed something:   

  • with a flexible schedule, so I could still be available to support him  
  • I could complete within the one-year period 
  • that would help me advance my career   
special education athabasca university Tsinda Coombs autism

After checking with local technical schools and universities, I began to hunt online and found AU’s Inclusive Education Certificate. AU allowed me to study on my own schedule, at my own pace, and would lead to work with my school division’s student support services. It was perfect! 

Knowing self-directed study is not for everyone, I was hesitant, especially since it had been 20 years since the last time I was a student. It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for: I could read, do online research, and complete assignments at my own speed.   

Access to tutors and the online library were invaluable. The interface was user-friendly, and my courses were extremely easy to navigate. I enjoyed the forums, where fellow students shared articles and ideas related to course content and gave feedback to each other.   

I was off to a running start, completing a three-credit course per month. And then a global pandemic threw a wrench in everyone’s plans. 


I was off to a running start, completing a three-credit course per month. And then a global pandemic threw a wrench in everyone’s plans. Tsinda Coombs

Instead of focusing on my online studies at home alone, I suddenly had two grade-school children, one with special needs, and a young adult son who normally attended physical university studying alongside me. My husband’s job in the grocery industry wasn’t affected by the pandemic, which was good for a secure income, but that also meant he wasn’t around during the day to help with school work. With rural internet access shared between four of us, and kids needing help with in online meetings and submitting assignments, my own studies slowed down.   

Fortunately, AU gave me flexibility to extend my study time, and allowed me to complete my certificate only six months behind schedule. At the same time, my school division recognized I was on track to completing the program.  I was assigned to a half-time educational support and half-time classroom teaching position. The work I had done at AU was extremely valuable and relevant to my new position, which was a fantastic opportunity to share my new knowledge. 

Without AU, I might not have been available when my kids needed me most, and I might have had to miss valuable time with my family to attend classes and complete course work. Things would have been quite different for all of us! 


Hi, I’m Tsinda Coombs.  I was always the kid who couldn’t wait for summer holidays to be over, partly because I missed my friends, but also because I was always hungry to be learning.  I got my first taste for teaching through leading outdoor activities in Scouting, and then on a student exchange to Costa Rica.  After high school I studied to teach English as a second language, then earned a Bachelor of Education degree with a major in French.  I taught in both French immersion and English elementary classrooms for 18 years, while raising three children. Two of them attended Fransaskois school, but my middle son has autism and intellectual disabilities, which turned my interests for the final chapter of my teaching career toward special education. AU helped me do it! 

  • September 10, 2021
Guest Blog from:
Tsinda Coombs