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Choosing the Right School for Your Child with Autism

Things to consider

September 2012

Some children with autism have trouble learning in the public school system. Parents looking for other options have many different types of schools available in Indiana. When searching for the right match, parents should focus on the type of learning environment their child can thrive in, the level of communication the child has, and behavioral concerns/issues.

Issues with an Average Classroom

Many children with autism have sensory issues and cannot filter through all of the visual and auditory input they may experience like a typical child could. A child with autism can be easily distracted when there are too many peers in a classroom. Besides having some problems with social skills, they can become distracted when trying to focus on the teacher. Many children do better in smaller classes and may benefit from having an aide to help them stay focused and organized throughout the day.

Also, when there are too many things in a classroom, it can be difficult for the child to know where to focus their attention. Sandy Harris, the mother of Ned, explained her concerns:

"When shown a typical 1st grade classroom, one that Ned would be included in, we could immediately foresee many problems. The room was full of distractions - posters, charts and pictures ALL OVER the walls, a bay window looking out to the playground, and a small library (rack of books). For our child with autism, sensory processing problems, and an extreme attraction to letters, words, and books, this type of room was a set-up for failure."

Besides classroom size, attention span, and sensory issues, children with autism may also do poorly in a classroom that is based only on auditory and visual learning. While many children with autism are visual thinkers, they may not process visual and auditory instructions. Many children, even those without autism, perform better in an environment that allows for hands-on learning because they are kinesthetic learners.

Things to Consider

Communication Skills: Some children on the autism spectrum can be non-verbal or have limited speech. Some may need assistive technology devices, which includes any item, equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of the user. Some may communicate by using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) or sign language. When both receptive and expressive language skills are an issue the parent needs to look for a school that focuses on improving communication skills.

Behavioral Issues: Safety can be major issue for some children with autism as they can be runners or wanderers. Elopement issues can put the child in a dangerous situation, such as running into a street without looking for cars. After seeing the playground and knowing her son that wanders would not have a one on one aide, Harris was very concerned.

"This would not only have been difficult for Ned, but dangerous as well. To this day we have to know where he is at all times just in case he takes a notion to take a walk - by himself."

Options for Parents

Once a parent has decided the type of environment, communication style of their child, and considered any behavioral concerns they have, then they are ready to look at schools.

In Indiana there are many alternative schools, charter schools, Montessori schools, residential schools, and even methodology based programs rooted in ABA or RDI that can help children with autism to succeed. Another option is homeschooling, which can be rewarding for both the parent and the child as it allows for one on one instruction, an individualized curriculum, and the ability to work at the child's own pace.

It's important to realize that every child is different. A school that is right for one child with autism may not be right for every child on the autism spectrum. Once you find a school that fits the needs of your child, however, you will be amazed how much they can learn, so a thorough search is worth the extra effort!

Tags: In This Issue, Special Needs

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