Finding the right school for any child can sometimes be a difficult job. All children do not have the same learning style, and though public schools are wonderful places of instruction, some children need smaller classes sizes, more one-on-one attention, or other services that more specialized or private schools can usually offer.
For special needs children with all types of learning issues and challenges, the situation can become even more complicated. It's important early on to look at your child's options, go on tours to a few schools if you can and, most important of all, use your mother's or father's gut instinct on where you feel your child's needs will be best served.
Here are five things I recommend looking for when you are choosing a school for your special needs child with autism or any other type of disorder or learning disability:
1) What type of learner is my child?
This is probably the most important question you can ask yourself. There are many different kinds of learners -- auditory, visual and tactile. Some children cross over all of these categories. Once you know how they learn best, you can see if the school you are visiting is flexible to teach in this way or uses a combination of mediums to teach.
2) What are the support services like?
This varies from school to school and city to city. If you are going to try a regular public or private school, make sure you ask lots of questions regarding funding for aids in the classroom and other support services like speech, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. Even with adapted or special needs schools you need to ask some questions along these lines as they are not necessarily run the same way.
3) Transportation to and from school and travel distance:
Obviously, you want to pick the right school for your child to thrive, but take into account long travel or commute time, bus service and how this will affect your child's love or dislike of school. Some children love riding the school bus or being in the car awhile, some don't. It's important to find ways to deal with this or take it into account as well.
4) Social skills:
Is your child very social, quiet? Can they sit and concentrate in a big class with an aid and one teacher or would a smaller class size with a teaching assistant or two and a teacher benefit them? Do they like socializing with other children or prefer being alone? These questions can also impact your choice.
5) What is your gut as a parent telling you:
Remember, you know your child best, and know where they will most likely thrive. Other than regular public and private schools, there are also specialized classes in a regular and public school settings, not to mention adapted schools. There is also homeschooling. Nothing is stopping you from trying out a school that you think is a good fit for your child. If you see they are unhappy, refusing to go to school, and not learning or growing in any way from the experience, then you can try out other options.
The important thing to remember is that nothing is set in stone, particularly your child's development. Their needs will change wherever they are, and as their parent and advocate, your most important job is to monitor what their overall health is and if they are learning and thriving in their environment, wherever that is.
Always keep your key professional people close by. Outside of the school teacher, they can include a psycho-educator or an educational consultant; other therapists working in and outside of the school with your child; and, of course, any doctors or medical professional that know your child's history.
When you start seeing everyone as your child's team for success with you at the helm as captain, then you know you are on the right path to helping your child achieve academic success.
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