Choosing a suitable school for children is a difficult decision for all parents, but for parents of children who are on the autism spectrum, the choice is even more challenging, and not one that can ever be taken lightly.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to the group of disorders that includes autism, Asperger’s syndrome and atypical autism (also called pervasive development disorder). Children with ASD present with a wide variety of symptoms, and to differing levels of severity, meaning that no simple “one size fits all” teaching technique is best.
Children with ASD might be considered low functioning, and have no spoken language, or alternatively may have normal speech, an intelligence level that’s way above average, and be considered as high functioning. The autism spectrum covers an array of possible presentations, from either end of the extremes, and everything in between.
As a result, knowing how to identify a good school that will provide the best foundation for a child with autism or another ASD is not easy. Although statistically the disorder has been increasing considerably over the years (with recent reports showing that approximately one in 68 children has been identified with ASD), schools continue to struggle to keep up with the demand for adequately ASD-endorsed teaching staff.
If you need to find a school that will provide the best fit for your child on the autism spectrum, it’s important to know what to look for. To start with, it pays to keep an eye out for schools with qualified teachers who possess an advanced special education degree that specifically focuses on autism. There are also a number of other key criteria to consider. If you’re keen to learn more, read on for top tips to choosing the right school for your special needs child.
Evaluate Teachers, Principals, and Teaching Methods
The primary people that students interact with at school, apart from their classmates of course, is their teachers. As such, it’s vitally important to pick a school for your child where the teachers understand Autism Spectrum Disorder and both the gifts and challenges of children with ASD.
While you might be impressed by the facilities, grounds, or technological options available at a school you’re considering, don’t bypass a thorough meeting with the teachers and principal before you decide. Well-trained, positive, and engaged staff will be the biggest asset for your child, and should be the main focus of evaluation.
Keep in mind too that a principal that is supportive of the needs of children on the autism spectrum will likely have processes and policies in place that will make the life of your child easier and happier, and their level of learning enhanced.
It’s always a good idea to visit a school more than once, as this will give you a better, more overall picture of how personnel and students interact, the skills and teaching methods using by staff, and the way in which classmates are encouraged to build relationships or settle disagreements. If you know any parents who already have ASD children attending the school, ask them for their honest feedback on the venue.
Mainstream Versus Special Needs
Choosing between sending your child to a mainstream or special-needs school can be extremely difficult. Since many kids on the autism spectrum are non-verbal, they will often require special-education facilities that provide small classes, teachers with very specialized training, secure environments, and a variety of teaching methods and aids to cater to children with ASD. Children with special needs can often feel more included and less “different” at these types of schools, which can make for a more positive learning experience overall.
On the other hand, there are also mainstream schools to consider, many of which provide specific classes for students with special needs. The major benefit of ASD children attending mainstream schools (especially kids who are higher functioning and very intelligent) is that they have the chance to learn from other children and enhance their social skills.
Mainstream schools may also have more diverse areas of study for children to choose from — a benefit in particular for kids with Asperger’s who tend to have one main area of great interest, such as engineering, science, or math. Many children will cope well with a mainstream school if they receive all the support they need. This may include additional services (either at, or outside of, school) such as counseling, and speech and language therapy.
As both children and schools vary a lot, there is no one “best” rule that fits for all cases. As a parent of a child with ASD, you will need to consider the specific abilities and challenges of your youngster and look for a school that will be the best match. Give yourself plenty of time to check out as many different facilities as possible, and don’t be afraid to ask educators all the questions you need in order to properly evaluate each venue.
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