According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism affects about one in 68 children in the United States. Autism is considered a spectrum neurodevelopmental disorder that hinders a person’s ability to communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, and is often associated with repetitive behavior.
Other characteristics of this disorder are limited eye contact with others, difficulty turn-taking with peers, imitation tendencies, and trouble understanding social norms.
Autistic children often have a hard time at school, as they are unable to focus on the task at hand. While about .5% to 10% of these children exhibit extraordinary adeptness in specific subjects, they often struggle with other material.
For this reason, many parents enroll their autistic children in special needs schools. These schools are staffed with professionals who are trained in teaching special needs children, from those who are autistic, to children with a host of other special needs. There are more than 400,000 special education teachers in the U.S. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Here a few ways that parents can decide on the right school for their child.
- Visit. The atmosphere at a school will often be the best indicator of the quality of the institution. Schools for children with learning disabilities and other disorders are designed according to the needs of their students. Many of them offer additional academic support outside the classroom, and there are also vocational rooms that are geared toward helping students learn a trade. Parents should feel that their child will succeed in the setting, and it should feel inviting and safe, as this will put their child at ease. They may even want to bring their child to see how he or she reacts to the school.
- Ask Questions. It is critical for parents to take a list of questions to each school to ask the principal, education coordinators, and support service staff. Most public schools require a Master’s degree in special education in order to begin teaching special needs children, and parents will want to make sure that all the teachers in the school are highly qualified. In addition, they should inquire about how an individualized education program (IEP), a legal document that outlines a child’s specific learning goals, will be implemented, how often reviews of the IEP will take place, and what additional resources their child will be offered. The more supports a school has in place for teaching special needs children, the better.
- Sit in a Classroom. To truly evaluate the quality of the teachers, parents should ask to sit in on a classroom their child will likely be placed into. This will give them a chance to watch how the teacher interacts with the children, see the support the children are given, and gauge how these children react to their instructor. If a teacher seems abrupt, impatient, or boring, parents will be able to see the negative effect in the children’s behavior. If students are engaged, willing to participate, and active, the school will likely be the right fit.
For children who are unable to participate in a general education setting through a special education program, special needs schools are a quality option. As long as parents see that a school is passionate about teaching special needs children, it will be the ideal place for their child.