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Private Education for Kids with Autism


What to consider when making a move from public to private schools



January 2014

Imagine if school were a true one-size-fits-all venture. No more worry. Easy accommodations. Social success all around. If only. Of course, it's not and parents do worry. Accommodations aren't always ideal. Social life can be messy. For parents of kids with autism, make that double worry.

"It's a complex process to determine what the right situation is for kids with HFA (high-functioning autism) who are often extraordinarily smart in some areas and have deficits in others," said Kevin Gailey, head of school for Midwest Academy.

While public schools are doing their best to teach kids with HFA, independent schools like Gailey's are also an option. Are these schools a good choice for your child? Gailey and experts from The Independence Academy and Worthmore Academy answer some top-line questions.

Why go private?

Jennifer Burton, director of school for The Independence Academy, believes private schools can provide an alternative to the often overwhelming environment of large public schools. She believes this is especially true at the secondary level when many students with autism become more anxious about increasing social and academic demands. Private schools can more easily create programming that addresses the specific needs of students with autism.

She also believes private schools can go further in creating a community for the learner. "Private schools designed to meet the needs of students with autism can help students as well as their parents, develop a sense of community which is fundamental to learning and making progress," Burton said.

Brenda Jackson, founder and director of Worthmore Academy, say kids with autism or other issues affecting communication can exhibit behavior problems in public school. Smaller schools like hers have the opportunity to give these kids the individual attention they need. "We never see [the behavior problems] here because the frustration is taken away from them and they are given a chance to learn," she said.

When is it time to consider private school?

Gailey believes if a parent has a gut feeling that their child is in the wrong situation and that his or her personality is changing, it's time to start looking. "When you get to a school that's right it is going to be a school that looks at the child as an individual and figures out how that child is going to fit into the community, not simply squeeze into the community," he said.

What about the IEP?

Public schools are required to provide an IEP or individualized Education program for students with Special Needs. They can make a significant difference in a student's ability to progress. Yet, they are not without flaw.

"IEP's are only as effective as the faculty members who implement them. In an increasingly burdened public education system, IEP's don't always successfully address the daily issues many students with autism face, such as chronic bullying and ostracism or teaching strategies and curricula designed to address the needs of typical students," said Burton.

How will parents know if a school is the right school?

Gailey recommends shadow days. Parents will often know if the school is a good fit or not by simply looking at their child's face when he or she walks out the school door after shadowing another student for a day.

What should parents look for in a good school?

See if the school is going to meet your child's needs, Gailey says, otherwise you may find yourself trading in one set of problems for another. Look specifically at what the school offers, its class sizes and the teaching methods.

"If you have a kid in a public setting and think that going to a private setting will make everything better, you may be in for a surprise unless they are doing something that is going to help," he said.

How much is this going to cost?

Private education can be expensive. However, scholarships and financial aid may be available and some families may qualify for the state's Choice Scholarship voucher program.


Tags: Education, In This Issue, Special Needs

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