Finding the right school for any child can be a real challenge. The situation becomes even more complex, though, if your child is dealing with autism. This diagnosis, which is really an umbrella term for several subtypes, varies widely in symptoms and their severity. When searching for the best school for your child with autism, there are many factors to consider. Although parents in some areas will have access to a specifically designed autism school, this is not always the case. If this is not an option for you, what should you think about when considering schools for your child?
Basic Types of Schools
In general, schools fall into one of three categories. Each type of school has unique advantages and disadvantages for children with autism. The basic school types are:
- Public schools. The most common educational establishment, public school attendance is usually decided by location, not need. However, it is sometimes possible to have your child go to another district's school if you feel it is better equipped to help. There's a huge variety in facilities and capabilities among public schools, and they do not require any extra financial investment once your child is enrolled.
- Charter schools. Although charter schools are technically public because they receive government funding and are free to attend, they differ greatly from traditional schools. Typically, they are able to offer a higher degree of education in a specialized field and often experiment with nontraditional teaching techniques. It is possible to find a specific autism school in this classification. Because both types of schools have an application process, class size is usually kept small so children can receive more individualized attention.
- Private schools. These organizations do not receive any public funding and can therefore be very selective in their admission practices. Some private schools even specialize in autism and will only accept children with a diagnosis. Keep in mind, though, that private schools charge a tuition fee.
Just because a school specializes in autism does not automatically make it the best choice for your child. Location, finances, or highly restrictive admission processes could all be limiting factors. You may also prefer that your child has the benefit of the diverse socialization that comes along with public schools. What are some things to look for when considering a specific school?
- Class size. As mentioned, children with autism benefit greatly from individualized attention. A school that has a low student-to-teacher ratio will ensure the teachers are able to give time to each student.
- Therapeutic services. Legally, public schools are required to offer speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and special education to students who need it. The amount and quality of these services might differ between schools, though.
- Bullying policy. Although bullying is a problem for many children, those with autism may be at a greater risk. Talk to the administrators of the school you're considering to make sure they have a solid anti-bullying policy in place.
- Experience with autism. It's very possible that, even if they do not specialize in autism, a school has experience helping children with the condition and has a quality program in place. Do your research by meeting with teachers and the administration to be sure they understand the special needs of your child and are equipped to meet them.
Do as much research ahead of time as you can to pick a school that you and your child will be most comfortable with. With so many factors to consider, you will want to prioritize which are most important to your family and use that list to guide you to the best decision.