Many parents of autistic children face the same question when kindergarten rolls around: Should you send your child to a special needs school or a public or private school?
Each autistic child has unique needs, so there’s no single path that’s right for all autistic children. Because of this, deciding between special needs schools and inclusive schools can be very overwhelming for parents.
There are benefits to both approaches. In a school for children with learning disabilities, teachers generally have more experience working with learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders, and the curriculum is structured to meet each child’s unique needs. Special needs schools will often come equipped with technology, teaching spaces and resource rooms tailored to children with disabilities.
However, this also means children don’t have as much interaction with their non-disabled peers. Proponents of inclusion, in which autistic children are educated alongside neurotypical (or non-autistic) children argue that children learn well from their peers. The idea is that interaction with neurotypical children will strengthen the autistic child’s social and communication skills at a faster rate.
Unfortunately, the reality is that teachers and staff in public and private schools aren’t given enough education to properly care for autistic children. This can cause stress for your child and may even put them in danger. Also, if the children studying alongside your child aren’t educated about autism, they may be cruel.
However, teachers and students who take the time to understand autism can become some of your child’s strongest allies, in both special needs schools and public/private schools.
Whichever option you choose, having a teacher you can approach is crucial. Rather than assume they have enough education to take care of your child, print out informational packets for the teacher and explain your child’s needs as well as you can. Often, you’ll be helping both the teacher and your child. Be polite but firm in your insistence that your child have a good education.
If you ever feel like a pest, remember that your child has the legal right to an individual education program, or IEP, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In fact, public school systems are required to provide autistic children with an IEP, even if the child is educated outside the public school system.
Contact the school district to schedule an IEP qualifying assessment or get more information, and consult with local or online autism support groups before deciding on a school.