When it comes to schooling your ASD child parents are the experts and know what is best, as well as what will work. There are so many aspects to take into consideration when choosing the right school for your special needs son or daughter. In fact, it may seem pretty daunting at this point, whether you are in the beginning of your journey, middle or have recently relocated. The challenges are all different and yet the same, depending on the child and overall environment. Now let’s take a deep breath and look at all the different ways schools provide for our autistic children. Some may even surprise you and some you may have never heard of. I hope that it is something that you can apply to your own situation and follow through to see your child through this maze of probable school setting scenarios. You are your child’s best advocate so make it count:-).
This is the most traditional option for education overall. Public school offers a wealth of special education services but at times may be determined by school budget, staff availability and communication with parents. Your child may qualify for an Individual Education Plan (IEP). An IEP is a document that acts as an agreement between you and your child’s teachers (both general education and special education) outlining services and methods that will be used to help your child reach his or her full potential. The IEP is revised yearly or every 3 years, depending on how your child has progressed (academically, emotionally or otherwise). This legal document follows your child to each public school he/she attends, so that it ensures the predictability and consistency in your child’s education.
Public school definitely has its challenges of overpopulated classrooms, long days, standardized testing and objective grading systems, all of which is one big headache for the parent, who is scrambling to find out how their special needs child is progressing, which is an uphill battle of lost communication, time and/or no communication at all.
Charter schools are public schools of choice. This usually means that the school is funded by the government and must meet all or most of the same regulations as your local public school. But you choose to have your child attend that particular school instead of being assigned to where you live at (local address). This gives you, the parent, greater freedom in selecting the right school environment which you may be more comfortable with. Each school is unique in its mission, curriculum, methods of teaching and standards of mastery.
They (charter schools) are often led by community members, local parents so parent involvement is usually very high. Because they meet the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) standards they will cater to special needs students and follow an IEP. As with public schools, charter schools are subjected to state and federal guidelines, including controversial standardized testing. Some schools may have a highly alternative curriculum that may not appeal to your child’s strengths/interests.
Charter schools are unpredictable. They are only funded if they meet certain criteria such as performance goals and if these goals are not met then the school can be closed at any time. Despite this, especially now in this pandemic era, charter schools are in demand. Most operate on a lottery system, meaning a high number of applicants submit their application in the spring and only a few are randomly chosen. Limited funding means the charter school may lack services such as before/after school care may not even be offered or available.
If you have money to spare and then some, a private school is a great option, especially if you feel that your child requires or needs a specific academic curriculum that operates independently of public-school requirements. In fact, in our own personal experience a few years ago, we toured a local private school and provided our IEP to them of which they kindly returned to us and said that they did not think it would be a good “fit” for our autistic child. Emphasizing the independence of this particular school environment and have the right to not follow an IEP because by law they don’t have to and can pick and choose what they provide and what they will not, leaving more out of pocket costs for you from outside resources. Many private schools offer highly specialized programs focusing on art, science, or religion. For students who excel academically or who want to study within a certain academic or religious context, private school offers the opportunity to connect with like-minded peers. Private schooling is also the most expensive educational option. Expect large tuition bills and a general
need for fundraising.
Many parents of children on the spectrum choose to homeschool because it provides a highly controlled environment for the child. As the parent, you decide the length and structure of the curriculum, school day, material covered, amount of social interaction and the special needs services that your child has access to within the local school district. The 1:1 attention is a highly desired benefit because it allows you as the parent to get immediate feedback on how your child is progressing and overall success in understanding and learning the school lessons at their own pace. Homeschooling can also be a huge commitment and challenge for a family with parents who work, especially outside the home. As your child’s sole source of education, you are responsible for teaching, lesson planning, grading and supplemental instruction as well. Many children with autism have social challenges that will require some extra work, like joining local homeschooling co-ops, small groups of local homeschool students, can help facilitate that important social interaction you child may need. Social media is a great way to initiate those important interactions.
Online school is like homeschooling in that it is done from home or outside the traditional school environment. Sometimes referred to as “virtual education”. These program allow your child to have access to a fully licensed teacher who provided individualized curriculum through various multimedia resources.
*Many programs start as early as kindergarten
-Some program may differ in their virtual club options so your child or children can connect with other peers.
*May have technology delivered to your door(depending on the state)
*Comfort and freedom of homeschooling without the impact to your wallet. Although it is similar to homeschooling, online school will be more structured.
*Parents take on more of an observational/learning coach role.
*Online schools are considered “public” schools and are required to meet many of the local district and state laws, including mandatory standardized testing.
Keep in mind that this type of learning is primarily through online resources and your child will be spending a great deal of time at the computer. Technology is an excellent tool for most children with autism but it is important to remember the computer screen is a highly visual tool. Children with visual sensory preferences may find the computer very distracting, so it is something to keep in mind for whatever your situation may be.
Family schools or Co-Ops are increasing in popularity and are a compromise between public school and homeschooling. So you are pretty much doing part-time in a traditional public school setting and the rest of your time is made up at home. Supplemental instruction is sent home with your student is completed during “homeschool hours”. An adult MUST be present in the home and is responsible for the education of the student during this time(homeschooling sessions).
*Teacher gets to know each child on an individual basis
*The material sent home is chosen by an qualified instructor who hopefully understands your child’s strengths and challenges and are open to the parent’s interpretation of what your child’s lesson material will be. This allows the child an opportunity to explore his/her interests.
*Shorter school days or alternate days in the week-More tolerable for most special needs students and as a parent your communication with the teacher is paramount and should remain open and consistent.
*Part of the local public school system and are still required to utilize standardized tests and meet other regulations as defined by local, state or federal government.
*Electives, such as art, music, PE and computers MAY NOT be included in the curriculum due to an abbreviated school schedule. Schools that operate independently may lack the facilities available in a public school setting, such as a playground or lunchroom.
* Family schools are increasingly in demand, which is resulting in programs with long waitlists.
*Family school MAY NOT have special education teachers available and/or who remain on the premises. This means that your child may have limited interaction with a professional who can render speech, occupational, behavioral , physical or other needed theapy services.
*IEP’s may or may not be officially recognized.
*Each school operates on its own schedule and your child may only attend on certain days of the week or for half a traditional school day and this requires an adult who will be responsible for maintaining the alternative school schedule and overseeing homeschooling success. Some schools require parent training programs, which may occur outside school hours.
At the end of the day you are your child’s best advocate when deciding what type of education will work for you. It is important to recognize the priorities you set for your family. Does your child need 1:1 interaction? Do you need an environment that provides special needs services? Are you comfortable with IEPs or standardized testing? Keep in mind that whatever may work for one child may not work for yours. Allow yourself some time to fully explore all the available options. Keep advocating for your child when his/her environment is just not the best and do not be afraid to reach out your local community resources when considering all of your options.