Choosing a school for your autistic child is one of the most important things you will have to do as a special needs parent. It’s not an easy task because it can make or break your child’s transition into the school system. The tips I am sharing with you can be helpful whether you are enrolling your child for the first time into an elementary school, high school or maybe you have moved to a new neighborhood.
Specialized Autism Program
When choosing a school for your autistic child look for schools that have a specialized autism program. Find out if teachers and staff are trained in autism and have experience in teaching students with autism. I have learned that it’s easier for your child to transition into a school when a school has teachers and staff that understand autism and how to work with autistic children. Also when a school has a specialized autism program it means your child’s learning needs will be accommodated and IEP meetings won’t be so stressful.
A sensory-friendly environment is essential for children with autism. Look for a school that has a quiet, calm and organized classroom, with a consistent schedule and minimal distractions. Some schools even have a separate dedicated sensory room. My son’s school has one and the kids get to just go in with their EA and either be on the swing, jump on the trampoline or just sit quietly on a bin bag. This helps the kids to reset and transition smoothly to other school activities.
Children with autism have unique needs and strengths. It is important when choosing a school to look for one that offers individualized support, with a focus on developing the child’s strengths and addressing their challenges. The availability of support such as Education Assistants, Speech Therapy, OT or ABA in school depends on the available resources the school has access to. School resources availability varies even though they may be publicly funded. On a personal note, we had to move to a high income neighborhood to ensure that our son enrolled into a school with better resources. Even though it’s a public school, the parents committee at the school is able to fundraise for other resources that the school needs.
Positive Behavior Support
Positive behavior support helps children with autism develop social and emotional skills. Choosing a school for your autistic child requires you to check if the school has a positive behavior support program. The program must emphasize on reinforcing positive behavior and managing challenging behavior. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how the school will be disciplining or managing your child when they have challenging behavior. This will help you find out if they already have experience with having autistic children in the school. It also helps you to be familiar with their choice of disciplining strategy then decide if it’s something that you are comfortable with.
Communication and Interaction
Children with autism benefit from structured communication and interaction. Look for a school that provides opportunities for social interaction, such as social skills groups, peer-to-peer interaction, and opportunities to practice communication skills. You can ask if there are any social clubs at the school and if they accommodate autistic children. Also find out how the teachers ensure that autistic children interact with their peers rather than being alone in their own world.
Technology can be a great tool for children with autism. Look for a school that incorporates technology in their teaching, such as using iPads or other assistive technology to support communication and learning.
Collaboration with Parents
Collaboration with parents is key for a successful education for children with autism. Look for a school that has a strong communication and collaboration system in place for parents, and is open to working with you to support your child’s needs. Take note of how the school is answering your questions, how long they take to respond to your emails and whether or not you are able to communicate with your child’s teacher directly be it using email or phone. Check to see if they are taking your suggestions into consideration. This is because some school staff tend to treat the parent like they have no clue on how to raise their autistic child.
Consider the location of the school in relation to your home and work, as well as the availability of transportation options. Sometimes our children have bad days at school. It is not unusual for the school to just call you to come and pick them up. Therefore, you want to enroll your child into a school that is nearby to where you are most of the time. So it could be near your work or your home.
Ensure that the school provides a comprehensive curriculum, including academic subjects, as well as opportunities for physical activity and creative expression. Our autistic children learn differently and have different interests. Check to make sure that the school’s curriculum is well rounded and will provide opportunities for your child to engage in a variety of activities other than academics. Ask about physical activities that are available to students each day and what accommodations are available for your child and their needs.
Public, Private or Special Autism School
Decide on whether you want to enroll your child in a regular public or private school. There is also an option to enroll them into a special school specifically for autistic children. However, autism schools tend to be private and expensive. Look into the cost of the school, including tuition fees, and any additional costs, such as transportation, and ensure that it fits within your budget.
Choosing the right school for your child with autism requires careful consideration of the above factors. It’s essential to find a school that provides the right environment, support, and resources to help your child reach their full potential.