Tips for Finding a Good School for Your Child with Exceptional Needs
Taken from tips shared through the internet
- Find parents with AS kids through a local support group. Call and ask them about their experiences with the district. Ask a lot of questions about how their child has been treated and take what they say with a huge grain of salt -- we had one parent tell us how wonderful and helpful his district is and then tell us how he and his son had to camp out in front of the superintendent's office to get an appropriate placement! But at least it gets you a place to start and gives you some connections in the community! And we were lucky to find our son's first (and only) true friend this way.
- Find out what kind of support is available outside the district in the area. They should know this if they are at all attuned to the needs of their students.
- Visit the SCHOOLS first. This will let you know whether or not it is worth your time to visit the Special Ed director. Our strategy is to make an appointment for a tour without mentioning our son's AS. We take the tour, ask general questions about the school and get a good feel for it's overall philosophy first. Then we describe our son and bring up the AS issue to see how the principal reacts. Good reaction: "We have had other kids like your son here and they have done well. Your son will fit in well here!". Bad reaction: "What kind of resources will the district give me to serve your child?"
- What is their ratio of Exceptional Educational Needs aides and teacher to students in the mainstreamed classrooms? (Different districts call themn different things but they are, in general, aides who oversees the education of a student having exceptional needs either in the classroom or in other ways.)
How big a caseload does each EEN teacher/caseworker carry? Over how many campuses?
- I would want to see their LOCAL PLAN. This PLAN describes how they provide services to ALL kids with special needs at all levels of severity (including those in the Juvenile Justice programs, etc. This would probably be at the LEA (Local Education Agency) level or can be obtained through the state DOE.
- We checked out the schools before we checked out the houses. Opted for a smaller school outside the city. Less stress and shuffle.
- As a way of narrowing down the search, we looked at the drop out rate for each school. There big differences between them. My assumption was that if they are trying to keep kids in school to get an education, they would also work with my son who has special needs. I got all my initial information on school districts and individual schools via the internet. All of the statistics (test scores, drop out rate, etc.) were posted.
- Visit the Special Ed director second. It may be a little white lie, but we try to give them the impression that we already have a contract on a house (even when we don't) because a. they may not speak to you otherwise and b. you don't want them to play any games to encourage/discourage you based on their need to grow their population/stretch their budget. Ask questions about programs in the district (social skills training), access to autism resources (e.g. behaviorist specializing in children with autism) and their philosophy about inclusion (make sure you find out what this really means -- ask what % of kids are in resource most of their "included" day and what % have a 1 on 1 and are truly in class with their typical peers all day)
- If you have established a good rapport with the Special Ed director, ask about the specific schools your child will attend. In one of our moves, we had found a house we loved in an elementary district where we weren't so sure about the school -- it seemed a bit snobby and stuffy. When we mentioned our observation to the Special Ed director, he gave us a funny look and told us confidentially that he wasn't so sure that that school was a good fit for our son. He mentioned another school in the district that we had visited and liked better and said that might be a better fit. So we backed out of the contract, concentrated our search in the other elementary district, got a nastier house, but a much better life because the school was a great fit for our son.
- Once you have made your final decision on school/house START PLANNING THE TRANSITION! Meet with the principal, Special Ed team as often as time and distance allow to get your child's program ready. We had a wonderful teacher who sent notes and pictures from her class right away so my son got a feel for his new class. They even included him on the class "Valentine's Day" list even though we weren't moving for another month.
- Don't let your child start school until you are sure his/her program is COMPLETELY IN PLACE -- including staff training. In the long run, its better to have your child miss a few weeks of school (even when your life would be easier with him/her out of the house!) than to send him/her into a confusing environment that hasn't fully adapted to his/her needs yet. When he/she is ready, ease him/her into the new situation with a brief visit before the actual start date.
- Don't underestimate how stressful this will be on you and your child. Prepare for some serious backsliding. Try to keep a few people from your old area that you can call from time to time just to vent -- you probably won't find people in your new area very quickly.
- Smile and have fun!